Chelsea

Chelsea’s World Cup issue that could take weeks to recover as Potter bids to close Man City gap

Graham Potter has not been deterred by Chelsea's recent form and is excited by the progress the team can make

Grahan Potter has enjoyed a relentless schedule since taking the role of Chelsea’s head coach. From a first fixture in the Champions League and two cancelled matches to an international break followed by a period of 13 matches ahead of the World Cup.

The Blues have stumbled after Potter started his Chelsea career with a nine-match unbeaten run, and defeats to Brighton and Arsenal in the Premier League have exposed Chelsea’s deficiencies that were perhaps only hinted at in the games before. The 47-year-old Chelsea boss is under no illusion of the challenge that lies before him, particularly given the scale of change in west London with new owners taking over in the summer.

Given Chelsea’s reputation for hiring and firing and the emphasis that has been placed on the role of the playing staff in the past, the question is raised of whether a coach has a sense of which players are with them. It does not appear to be something the former Swansea boss is concerned about yet.

He said: “We’ve been together for six weeks, in terms of six weeks, because before the two weeks before, they were away for ten days, so six weeks. And in those six weeks, we’ve had 13 matches, eight of them away.

“I think it would be really harsh of me to judge anybody totally on that, in that extreme circumstance. Most people have six weeks, and it’s a pre-season. This is 13 matches. So it’s really, it’s not the most normal circumstance, I’d say.

“But my feeling with the players is that…. I think there’s a blame culture anyway in football generally, and it’s easier to blame me or the manager because that’s an easier solution. It’s harder to say, okay, is it something to do with culture? Is it something to do with strategies? Is it something to do with values? Is there something to do with the idea?

“Because that’s a bit more complicated, and then you have to think a bit more for that, it’s not so easy as to think you can just blame that guy and change it over. I’m talking generally there.

“The exciting thing is, we’re on this process. We’ve done quite well, and the players have responded really well. It’s not going to be a straight line up. There’ll be some hard times. The weekend was a hard one, the weekend before was, so that gives us a chance to learn and improve.”

It’s a process that Potter has been through before, and Chelsea’s coach expects the experience of coaching to get better. He acknowledges ‘with time, because you go through the ups and downs, and then you understand: more about this person who can come with us, who maybe is not on the right path together, how you can help them, how they can help you?’.

He added: “You have to go through a bit of pain to get to that point. It’d be wrong of me to say anything else. It’s no shortcut to it, in my experience.”

The condensed period of fixtures in which Potter has been in charge has brought its own challenges, but Potter sees himself at the start of a project to try and narrow the gap to the top of the Premier League, and Wednesday night’s opponents, Manchester City. The notion of ‘suffering’ has become a common tenet of Potter’s press conference, and it appears the former York City defender does not expect to be void of that feeling soon. He embraced that when taking the job.

Potter said: “I would say it’s a little bit unfair to assess Chelsea now because the change of ownership has happened. We’re on a new direction and new path, and ultimately, that is part of the challenge.

“If I wanted a nice easy life, I could have quite easily stayed working, at Brighton, in the Premier League, signed a new contract and been absolutely okay. And I wouldn’t have had too many questions about myself or pressure or sacking or anything like that.

“But the reason to come here, one of the reasons to come here, one of many, was that it’s a fantastic football club, potentially one of the best in the world, and that can compete for any major trophy. But I think we all know that we’re not at that point now, and we haven’t been for two or three or four years. That is the reality when you look at the league table and the points difference between the top two and Chelsea.

“So okay, how do you get there? That’s hard work, and that’s pain, and that’s suffering, and that is moving forward, and that’s learning, and that’s developing, and that’s just driving it forward – And that’s absolutely why we’re here.”

It is not just Potter that will be looking forward to the end of the weekend and a break from domestic football. There will be time to reset and assess, but quite quickly, coaches will be reminded of more problems that will be presented by the international competition.

Teams progressing to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup face a fixture just days following the World Cup final. The return is barely one week afterwards.

Figures such as Thiago Silva could be reaching the zenith of their career, while for most, it will be difficult to see the World Cup as anything but a priority. A question of mindset and physical freshness will be present in defeat or glory and likely have an impact on the squad Potter can choose when football returns in December.

Potter said: “Honestly, it is hard for me to sit here and say what the motivation of another human being will be after the World Cup. Of course, it depends if you win it. I don’t know if you can even celebrate it after you’ve won the World Cup, I don’t know. I am asking you guys. If Brazil wins the World Cup, it would be mad if you can’t go back and celebrate. Wow, what has the world come to if you can’t?

“I could be selfish [and ask them to come back]. That’s the challenge of having the World Cup in the middle because the alternative is that you don’t go and celebrate despite winning the World Cup, and you are back here in training. Even then, it will be difficult because they’ve just played a game, whatever the date is, and then they’ve got to recover. Emotionally, how long does it take to recover from a World Cup final? It could take weeks. They might be on open-top buses here, there and everywhere. And then they need a three-week holiday to get over that celebration. Of course, we are English, so it has been a long time since we’ve known about that.

“Who is going to be in the final? Hopefully England from our perspective, but who knows? On that point, if you’ve lost the World Cup final. How long does it take to get over that? Probably not three or four days.”

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