Graham Potter faces a critical week in his tenure as Chelsea manager, starting with the visit of Leeds on Saturday, before next week’s Champions League second leg against Borussia Dortmund.
The two games, and his decisions before and during them, could define his future as a manager.
Prepare for Dortmund or focus on Leeds?
The bloated nature of Chelsea’s squad means that Potter was unable to name the same line-ups for the Premier League and the Champions League, which presents a challenge.
Logic and form would suggest that Kai Havertz should be dropped for Saturday’s match, but with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and David Datro Fofana unavailable in Europe, the German will be Potter’s only central option on Tuesday night.
Havertz has scored just six goals this season, one of which has come in his past 11 appearances. Perhaps even more shockingly, he has registered just one assist. Chelsea may not see Aubameyang as a long-term solution, but if Potter is not thinking past Leeds then it would surely make sense to play a proven number nine in the number nine position. Defender Benoit Badiashile and winger Noni Madueke can also not face Dortmund.
A back three or a back four?
Thiago Silva’s injury came as yet another blow to Potter, who faces a dilemma at the back. Playing three central defenders at home to Leeds could be seen as a safety-first move and yet it could be the best decision.
Kalidou Koulibaly and Badiashile didn’t look comfortable as a two against Southamptonbut the return of Wesley Fofana, along with the availability of Cesar Azpilicueta and Trevoh Chalobah, at least gives Potter options.
Reece James was virtually unplayable as a right wing-back in what must rank as Chelsea’s best performance under Potter, against AC Milan in the Champions League and he and Ben Chilwell could provide crosses into the box. An extra defender may also help Enzo Fernandez, whose defensive deficiencies were exposed away in Dortmund and in last Sunday’s defeat that Tottenham.
Mount or Felix – or both?
Potter may well not see this as an either/or selection and there would be a way of fitting them both in if Chelsea started with four at the back. On-loan Felix has undoubtedly looked very good in flashes but he has still only scored one goal and is yet to register an assist, while Chelsea’s general goalscoring problems have not improved with the Portuguese in the team.
Mount would admit that he has not been at his best this season and yet he has still registered nine goal contributions, scoring three times and assisting six. It should also not be forgotten that Chelsea’s best performances against AC Milan both came when Mount started as one of three attacking players with Aubameyang and Raheem Sterling.
Were Potter to stick with a four-man defense then Mount could start on the right of a three behind the striker, with Felix in the number 10 position. Starting with a back three would most likely require Potter to choose between the pair.
Be ruthless or maintain harmony?
Potter has an impossible situation with a squad of more than 30 players to manage and he has done his best to keep everyone involved. But in trying to please everyone, Chelsea’s head coach has pleased nobody since the January transfer window.
Players were angry about being left out of the matchday squad for the Tottenham defeat, so does Potter now make sure they at least make the bench to avoid potential confrontation, or does he cut some further adrift?
There is also the issue of Hakim Ziyech, who was an email away from leaving Chelsea on January transfer deadline day, when he traveled to Paris without permission, and yet has started three games since. Whether Potter felt Ziyech deserved another chance after Chelsea messed up his move or whether he genuinely thought the Morocco international was his best option, who knows? But the Ziyech hokey cokey has not been productive so far.
Protect players or deliver home truths?
There has been no hiding from Potter, who has accepted responsibility for Chelsea’s results and defended his players in public, reiterating what a good group he believes they are. But the fact that Chelsea have only won three times this season after going behind and not drawing one game after conceding the first goal would suggest some heads might need knocking together.
Potter’s team simply have not dealt with setbacks well enough and players have too often disappeared when the chips are down, or they have let good starts to games drift off. Much has been made of the fact that Potter is not a demonstrative figure, but some of the players have been let off the hook and they need it spelled out for them just what playing for Chelsea means.
The culture of the club may be changing, but nobody at Stamford Bridge should accept second best – least of all Potter and his players.
Who gets the armband?
When Silva was forced off against Tottenham, James took the captain’s armband, even though the captain of Senegal, Koulibaly, and Sterling, who has captained England, were both on the pitch.
Club captain Azpilicueta will take the armband if he is selected, but if not Potter must decide whether to leave the captaincy with James, who is being groomed for the position in the futureor look to someone with more experience and leave the right-back free of the added pressure to try to play at his unstoppable best.