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Just In: Potter hits Tuchel Chelsea problem as Chilwell angers Thiago Silva

Potter hits Tuchel Chelsea problem as Chilwell angers Thiago Silva

Graham Potter secured his first Chelsea win during the weekend visit to Crystal Palace. The manager had switched from the fluid 3-5-2 shape utilized against Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League in favour of an attacking 4-3-3 at Selhurst Park.

That meant a back four of Reece James, Wesley Fofana, Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell. A midfield three of Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Mason Mount. And an attacking trio of Raheem Sterling, Kai Havertz and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

However, it appears, Potter’s side took more time to adapt to the new style after falling behind after Odsonne Edouard finished neatly at the back post. Yet Potter’s side did concoct several neat spells of possession that ended with shooting opportunities inside the Palace penalty area.

That in itself is progress. Far too often this season, Chelsea have become frustrated and ultimately beaten by well-organized, deep defensive blocks. The problem, however, with playing a back four is what happens out of possession. It’s something Thomas Tuchel knew only too well.

The former Chelsea head coach preferred a back three for important tactical reasons. The first was it ensured Thiago Silva – now 38 years old – wasn’t pulled out into wide defensive areas where he is less comfortable. And the second was that the 3-4-3 shape protected Jorginho’s inability to cover space in midfield.

Jorginho’s lack of mobility is nothing new; he has enjoyed huge success at Chelsea and with Italy in spite of it. But Palace was able to cause Chelsea several problems in the opening 45 minutes because of the space Eberechi Eze, in particular, was able to exploit against the Blues’ No.5.

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The bigger problem was a potentially costly error. This was in the opening period when Chilwell was caught on the ball on the edge of Chelsea’s penalty area and Silva had to come across, cover, and concede a corner. The angry glare and head shake from the Brazilian said it all.

But Silva was then caught out himself. He tried to ease beyond Jordon Ayew only to come under pressure from the Palace forward. The centre-back hit the turf and grabbed the ball, but referee Chris Kavanagh awarded a free-kick to the home side and Silva was shown a yellow card.

VAR did check as to whether it should be a red card for Silva for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity. Ultimately, they felt the on-pitch decision was correct, although that was admittedly a fortunate call for the Blues. “I think it’s one that we’ve been fortunate with,” accepted Potter.

“The fact it is quite a way from the goal has maybe helped us a bit and there are covering defenders. But I can understand Patrick’s [Vieira’s] frustration.”

Surprisingly, Potter understands the problem facing him and just 11 minutes into the second period, Potter opted to replace Jorginho with the more physically domineering presence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek. That enabled Chelsea to gain a greater foothold of the contest and the controlled possession, although admittedly did not fashion much until Conor Gallagher curled home a stunning late winner.

Potter wants Chelsea to be adaptable. How feasible that is without a true defensive midfield presence in the side remains to be seen. “We need to be careful with change because things have to be consistent,” the Blues’ head coach said explaining the 2-1 victory.

“How we play is consistent but at the same time, we have 12 matches in six-and-a-bit weeks, so it will be difficult to keep consistency in terms of selection. We have to stay open-minded but we need some consistency in how it looks and what we are trying to do on the pitch. But at the same time, we have to pick a team we think can win.”

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