Kalidou Koulibaly costly as Chelsea suffer familiar failings to halt Graham Potter resurgence
Saturday provided an all-too-familiar story for Graham Potter and Chelsea.
The Blues suffered a halting of momentum ahead of the international break, with their three-match winning streak ended by Everton’s spirited fightback and some lax defending at Stamford Bridge.
Following a dismal run of just four wins from 21 fixtures, pressure had this month been lifted from Potter’s shoulders by successive victories over Leeds, Borussia Dortmund and Leicester.
But against Everton, Chelsea dominated possession, missed chances, and dropped points thanks to shoddy defending just when the cogs were beginning to turn.
Only three Premier League teams boast meaner defences than Chelsea this term, but in their recent draw at West Ham and defeat by Tottenham, the Blues left a lot to be desired in that area.
Veteran Thiago Silva is Chelsea’s best centre-back, but with him out injured, Wesley Fofana, Benoit Badiashile and Kalidou Koulibaly all started against Sean Dyche’s side.
Fofana, 21, signed from Leicester for a mammoth £75million fee in August is proving his quality and didn’t lose a single aerial duel all game. But neither Badiashile nor Koulibaly have settled at Chelsea. Both lacked confidence.
Koulibaly was culpable for both Everton goals, beaten in the air by James Tarkowski as Abdoulaye Doucoure scored the first equaliser. Koulibaly was then torn to shreds by substitute Ellis Simms, who outmuscled him in the 89th minute and stole a point.
They were poor individual errors which cost Chelsea two points when they looked set to claim a well-deserved victory. It is a damning indictment of Koulibaly’s struggles in England since joining from Napoli in the summer that January signings Enzo Fernandez and Joao Felix have had far less time to settle but found form immediately.
Indeed, Fernandez and Felix were Chelsea’s brightest sparks, receiving the ball to feet and turning their markers with a blend of poise, skill and ingenuity. Man of the match Felix scored his second Chelsea goal, and Fernandez began that attack with a lovely raking pass. Kai Havertz was also effective and scored from the spot.
But Koulibaly’s errors and Everton’s pluck in the midst of a relegation scrap ensured that Chelsea missed out on victory and the points were shared.
“We wanted to get the fourth win [in a row] and go into the international break with a victory,” Potter said afterwards. “We’re disappointed because the goals we conceded I think are too cheap for us to expect to win.”
Potter is looking forward to a rest, with Chelsea not in action again until facing Aston Villa on April 1.
He said: “April and May will be heavy, so it’s important for me as the leader to gain some freshness and recharge. I’m probably going to close my eyes and sleep for a few hours. I’ll spend some time with the family.”
Reflecting on his tenure so far, Potter said: “Since the last two windows, you’re probably looking at a 20-plus player turnaround.
“The injuries we were picking up were crazy, and the transfer window has added more noise to us. This performance was positive, Dortmund was positive, but there’s still lots to do.”