2 March 2023

What Is Chelsea's Best XI? Potters £600m Problem  (Sky Sports)

Graham Potter Graham Potter has a £600m problem facing him at Chelsea as the under-pressure head coach prepares for two crucial matches against Leeds and Dortmund.

Chelsea have won just once in their last 11 games across all competitions, scoring just four goals in that time and sit 14 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham.

Eight January signings totalling over £323m took their spending for the season to more than £600m and bolstered the squad up to 31 players - but it has left Potter with several headaches over what his best XI is.

Chelsea's first team

Goalkeepers: Edouard Mendy, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Gabriel Slonina, Marcus Bettinelli

Defenders: Reece James, Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva, Wesley Fofana, Benoit Badiashile, Trevoh Chalobah, Kalidou Koulibaly, Ben Chilwell, Marc Cucurella,

Midfielders: Enzo Fernandez, N'Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic, Denis Zakaria, Mason Mount, Conor Gallagher, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Carney Chukwuemeka

Forwards: Mykhailo Mudryk, Kai Havertz, Joao Felix, Raheem Sterling, Christian Pulisic, Noni Madueke, Armando Broja, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Hakim Ziyech, David Fofana

The injury list

Potter has had to contend with a staggering injury list during his tenure at the club, but the number of unavailable players is subsiding.

However, Thiago Silva limped off after just 19 minutes in their 2-0 defeat at Tottenham, suffering knee ligament damage with reports claiming he could be out for as long as six weeks.

N'Golo Kante, though, is nearing a long-awaited return from a hamstring strain having not played since August and has returned to training. Christian Pulisic is also close to being available following a problem with his knee sustained at the beginning of January.

Cesar Azpilicueta is undergoing concussion protocol after being discharged from hospital last week having been kicked in the head against Southampton.

Chelsea's 18 signings

Benoit Badiashile - Monaco, £35m
Andrey Santos - Vasco da Gama, £18m
David Datro Fofana - Molde, £10m
Joao Felix - Atletico Madrid, loan
Mykhailo Mudryk - Shakhtar Donetsk, £88.5m
Noni Madueke - PSV, £29m
Malo Gusto - Lyon, £26.3m
Raheem Sterling - Manchester City, £47.5m
Kalidou Koulibaly - Napoli, £34m
Omari Hutchinson - Arsenal, free
Gabriel Slonina - Chicago Fire, £12m
Carney Chukwuemeka - Aston Villa, £20m
Marc Cucurella - Brighton, £63m
Cesare Casadei - Inter Milan, £16.6m
Wesley Fofana - Leicester, £75m
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - Barcelona, £10.3m
Denis Zakaria - Juventus, loan
Enzo Fernandez - Benfica, £105m

Another option in midfield for Potter will be Mateo Kovacic, who missed the Spurs game through illness but no return date has been set for Edouard Mendy following surgery on a broken finger in January.

Armando Broja had knee surgery on an injury picked up during the mid-season break and is not expected to be fit again this term.

Four at the back vs three at the back

Potter appears to have settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation after initially deploying three at the back, but both systems have been almost as unsuccessful as each other.

Of Potter's 18 Premier League matches, 11 have been with a back four and the other seven with three. Chelsea have lost a game more with four in defence, conceded two fewer goals and kept two fewer clean sheets - but three at the back has earned just one victory.

However, playing with three central defenders has seen Chelsea score three more goals, have more shots and have a higher xG from a smaller pool of matches.

Reece James and Ben Chilwell both started at right-back and left-back respectively in the defeat to Spurs. In the eight times when they've played together this season, Chelsea have won four matches and lost two compared to four wins in 16 when at least one of them has been missing.

James and Chilwell have both excelled as wing-backs in previous seasons and Potter may be tempted to switch to a back three to accommodate them in those positions, particularly given their struggles in attack with the current system.

Kepa holds No.1 shirt

Kepa Arrizabalaga has nailed down the spot ever since Mendy's form nosedived at the start of the season before he was dropped following Potter's appointment.

Mendy's lack of fitness since the World Cup coupled with starting in defeats to Arsenal, Man City and Newcastle in November, when Kepa was injured, further damaged his case for the No. 1 shirt.

Kepa's stats are stronger and show that he has not made an error that has directly led to a goal, unlike Mendy.

Who should replace Silva?

With Azpilicueta currently injured, there is even less of a debate as to whether James should start at right back. It's on the other flank where Potter has a decision to make.

Marc Cucurella has struggled since his £60m move from Brighton last August with criticism even extending to the twitter account of co-owner Todd Boehly which appeared to like a tweet of an article stating the left-back was not good enough to play for the club.

The 24-year-old, who was a victim of a burglary shortly after joining Chelsea, was booed by fans last month, but his stats tell a somewhat different story of his struggles when compared to Chilwell.

Cucurella's numbers are skewed by the fact he has played more than double the minutes of Chilwell in the Premier League so perhaps Potter removing him from the firing line like against Tottenham is a sign of things to come.

The injury to Silva comes as a huge blow to Chelsea with the Brazil defender their best centre-back. Kalidou Koulibaly has had a mixed time in his debut season, committing 19 fouls which is 11 more than the next closest in Silva while also losing the most aerial duels - but he does outperform Trevoh Chalobah statistically.

Chalobah was not in the squad for the Tottenham defeat despite having solid underlying statistics from his 13 Premier League matches. Chelsea have conceded five more goals without him in the team than he has started.

Benoit Badiashile has had a better time in his five games than Wesley Fofana in his four. Badiashile has made more tackles, clearances, won more aerial duels and has better passing accuracy.

Who should partner Fernandez?

Enzo Fernandez has half the amount of assists (1) than Mason Mount despite playing 19 fewer Premier League matches. The British-record signing has impressed in his four Premier League run-outs, but he can't make Chelsea tick all by himself.

Conor Gallagher, Mateo Kovacic, N'Golo Kante, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Denis Zakaria and Carney Chukwuemeka are the options available to Potter for Fernandez's partner.

Gallagher has played the most matches (21) compared to Kovacic (16) and Loftus-Cheek (16), and has made the most tackles. But Kovacic has won possession the most in the middle third and is much better on the ball, completing 591 passes. Potter may prefer the control he can bring.

Kante has played just twice this season although his energy and ball-winning capability will make a strong case for inclusion while Chukwuemeka and Zakaria have had limited minutes and clearly aren't to be trusted yet.

Mudryk in a muddle

The £88m Mykhailo Mudryk has failed to impress in five Premier League appearances by not creating a chance, not having a shot on target and completing just two dribbles.

Chelsea's other new winger, Noni Madueke, a £29m January signing, has also made no impact although does at least have two shots on target to his name.

Joao Felix has fared better with 15 shots and one goal while Raheem Sterling is the leading wide player with four goals and two assists. He also has the most shots on target and most dribbles.

Potter's faith in Hakim Ziyech appears misplaced. The Morocco winger is yet to score and has produced one assist in 13 appearances, Mount is out in front in terms of minutes played (1640) yet his season has been unproductive seeing just nine shots on target from 32 of which only three have gone in.

Christian Pulisic has had familiar problems with injury although of the six games he's started, Chelsea have won three and lost two. But with Felix and Sterling also vying for the left-wing spot, the American remains down the pecking order.

For all the talk of Chelsea's striker problem, their lack of creativity from midfield and wide areas is apparent.

Keep faith in Kai

With five goals and one assist, Kai Havertz remains Chelsea's first-choice striker ahead of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and new signing David Fofana. Havertz also offers a threat in the air with 54 aerial duels won and 21 headed clearances.

Aubameyang has scored once and not registered an assist, having only 10 shots, and was omitted from Chelsea's Champions League squad.

Fofana has played just an hour of football since joining in January with two shots on target from three.

The line-ups:

4-2-3-1: Kepa; James, Chalobah, Koulibaly, Chilwell; Fernandez, Kovacic; Sterling, Mount, Felix; Havertz.

3-4-2-1: Kepa; Chalobah, Koulibaly, Badiashile; James, Fernandez, Kovacic, Chilwell; Felix, Sterling; Havertz.

Chelsea's next five fixtures...

Saturday March 4: Leeds (H) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm

Tuesday March 7: Borussia Dortmund (H) - Champions League, kick-off 8pm

Saturday March 11: Leicester (A) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm

Saturday March 18: Everton (H) - Premier League, kick-off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports

Saturday April 1: Aston Villa (H) - Premier League, kick-off 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports