Graham Potter’s good-vibes-only start to life as Chelsea manager is set to be tested in the next few days and weeks as we head into the World Cup, with our injury list steadily growing and growing with players whom we really cannot afford to lose. Reece James is the latest to join, set to miss up to eight weeks with a knee injury (strained ligament, presumably).
As Potter himself put it the other day, we are losing players for whom we do not have replacements — not necessarily because we don’t have the numbers in the squad, but because they are so good and so key that by definition, their backups cannot be as good.
“[James’s] performances on the pitch are a realisation of how high his ceiling can be. He is that type of player with the world-class attributes he has got and the way he defends with Zaha and the way he defended with Leão in both games against Milan is a high, high level and he contributes in the attacking phase as well. He is a top, top player.”
“It would be wrong to say we won’t miss a player like Reece or NG [Kanté] – Wesley Fofana as well. [...] We haven’t got another Reece James or another N’Golo Kanté.”
Outside of having two Reeces or two N’Golos in the squad (which would make it four N’Golos if I have my math correct), injuries to players like them often can be season-changing. They don’t necessarily have to be a disaster however, if we can figure out a way to cope.
“That’s the job of the squad, my challenge is to find different solutions. [...] You’ve got to find a different way of working in the team. Tactically, that’s a challenge but one we are up for.”
Faced with a similar situation last season, Thomas Tuchel’s answer was mainly to keep the same strategies and plug in different players in the needed positions. And thus was born the running joke of everybody playing wing-back, which really wasn’t too far from the truth with the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Christian Pulisic, Saúl Ñíguez, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, among others, all taking turns. Tuchel did hint at moving beyond Kanté-dependence in midfield, though we never got to see what that plan might have entailed.
So now it’s on Potter to figure out a solution — while also urging a review of our recent injury record.
“I don’t think you should blame everything on luck that’s for sure. I think we can have a look and see what we can do better. Obviously, I’ve been here a few weeks so I haven’t got the answers completely. But clearly, we want to always try to improve and that’s an area that we can probably improve.”
-Graham Potter; source: Football.London
The new head coach has focused mostly on the emotional, human side of management so far when speaking in public, though he has shown flexibility in formations and personnel already as well.
But this ... this will now indeed test his tactical mettle.