bridge of sighs | 

Roy Curtis: Graham Potter looking like a Prince Harry ‘Spare’ as Chelsea welcome the Palace

Dire form and schizophrenic selection haunting Stamford Bridge manager

File photo dated 13-09-2022 of Chelsea manager Graham Potter. Chelsea announced the appointment of Graham Potter as their new head coach on a five-year contract. Issue date: Friday December 16, 2022.© PA

Graham Potter’s Chelsea welcome Crystal Palace to Stamford Bridge. Photo: Getty Images© Getty Images

Graham Potter reign as Chelsea manager could come to an end if they lose to Crystal Palace today. Photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images© Visionhaus/Getty Images

Raheem Sterling is Chelsea's top scorer with a paltry four goals. Photo: CameraSport via Getty Images© CameraSport via Getty Images

Roy CurtisSunday World

Apart from Prince Harry, it is difficult to imagine a bearded Englishman who might have greater misgivings this morning about facing an audience with the folks from the ‘Palace.

Graham Potter will shuffle into another London derby today, betraying the self-conscious unease of an unloved “Spare.”

A home loss to Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace – who themselves conceded seven goals in two catastrophic festive period local squabbles – and the sense that history has slipped beyond the Chelsea manager’s grasp might arrive at a point of no return.

Statistic after statistic, headline after headline holds a mirror to Potter’s impotence.

They feed a consensus that the walls are closing inexorably in just four months on from the hugely controversial axing of Thomas Tuchel, the leader who supercharged Chelsea hopes of a return to boom times with 2021’s gift of Champions League glory.

Potter has presided over a sustained erosion of Stamford Bridge hope.

With just one domestic win in 11 games, having exited both the FA and Carabao Cups, Chelsea lurch 19 points adrift of Arsenal with a game more played.

Graham Potter reign as Chelsea manager could come to an end if they lose to Crystal Palace today. Photo: Visionhaus/Getty Images© Visionhaus/Getty Images

The relentless feast of Abramovich-era glory, which, in one particularly abundant period of plenty, yielded a banquet of five Premier League titles in a dozen years, is a receding memory, a jolting reminder of how far Jose Mourinho’s alma mater has fallen.

Chelsea trail proletariat (at least relative to Todd Boehly’s billions) West London rivals Brentford and Fulham, with increasingly disgruntled supporters chanting Tuchel’s name after last weekend’s four-goal evisceration by Manchester City.

Even before Thursday’s latest setback at Fulham, it was being reported that the Chelsea hierarchy had smashed the emergency glass and held preliminary discussions with Mauricio Pochettino.

On Potter’s watch, the blue predators have been reimagined as toothless prey, scoring more than once against English opponents only once since mid-October.

A further setback today and the terrace bloodlust must be sated by an emphatic flourish of the guillotine.

The wave of negativity has risen to an impossible-to-ignore tsunami, as a sample tray of the past week’s headlines illustrates.

“Potter holds crisis talks with four-man ‘council of war’ in desperate bid to beat slump”; “Six problems Potter must solve after crisis talks with Chelsea stars”; “Curse of Chelsea now haunts Potter.”

Not since the toxic six-month ascendancy of Rafa Benitez exactly a decade ago has there been such an overtly poisonous stench of rebellion among the Stamford Bridge masses.

If Boehly was absurdly rash in his dismissal of Tuchel, there is a sense that, just 130 days into his successor’s reign, any further failure to immediately remove the former Brighton boss might amount to an act of fatal dithering, an evident dereliction of duty.

It may sound cruel, but it is nonetheless the reality of football’s pitiless instant-gratification era.

Raheem Sterling is Chelsea's top scorer with a paltry four goals. Photo: CameraSport via Getty Images© CameraSport via Getty Images

Already ten points off the Champions League pace, this afternoon’s fixture feels like a referendum on Potter’s future.

A win might conceivably inch him a few seconds further from midnight on the Doomsday Clock.

But a home loss to Palace, a team whose recent body of work includes a 4-0 hammering by Spurs, a 3-0 savaging by Fulham, along with a home FA Cup loss to bottom-of-the-table Southampton, and there will be nowhere for the 47-year-old to turn.

Potter’s call for patience stands in marked contrast to fellow Englishman Eddie Howe’s immediate transformative upgrading of Newcastle, the Toon seamlessly converted from relegation-haunted strugglers to Champions League contenders.

Chelsea’s lavish array of offensive weapons includes Kai Havertz (signed for £75m), Raheem Sterling (just under £50m), World Cup semi-finalist Hakim Ziyech and former Premier League golden boot Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Yet the offensive incoherence is highlighted by their having no representative among the Premier League’s top 20 scorers, Sterling (right) their leading marksman with a pitiful four goals.

Chelsea have by far the most anaemic goal column – 21 in 18 games – of any of the top ten, with even Leeds and Leicester, clubs in a relegation battle, more prolific.

Erling Haaland, by himself, has netted as many times as the Londoners who, in a vivid illustration of Tuchel’s A-list qualities, defeated City in the Champions League final just 20 months ago.

Team selection has appeared schizophrenic, the starting line-up frequently lacking pace, the absence of a single counter-attacking goal this season a damning illustration of their pedestrian nature.

While Martin Odegaard dazzles for Arsenal, Kevin De Bruyne cracks safes for City and Christian Eriksen pulls the Old Trafford strings with great imagination, Chelsea are lacking a creative midfield presence to unlock doors.

Without the thrust offered by injured full-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell, the team is too often blunt and clueless.

It all amounts to an unfamiliar language of mediocrity, a blue blood of the Premier League era, one that has missed out on Champions League qualification three times in the past 20 years, suddenly panhandling for points.

Pochettino, who, more than three years on from his Tottenham Hotspur exit, continues to own a house in London, has made no secret of his desire to return to management.

Should Chelsea again fluff their lines today, it is not entirely inconceivable that the Argentine, out of work since departing PSG last summer, could be in the dugout for next weekend’s trip to Anfield.

By that stage, “Harry” Potter, his status as a spare confirmed, might feel compelled to ape the Duke of Sussex, by dashing off to engage in urgent phone calls to his therapist.

MUDRYK ON WAY TO BLUES

Chelsea are “very close” to a deal for winger Mykhailo Mudryk, having agreed a fee with Shakhtar Donetsk after sending representatives to Turkey to seal the transfer.

The Blues have moved fast for the 22-year-old Ukraine international after Arsenal were believed to be close to completing his signing.

The Sunday World understands a delegation from Chelsea travelled to Turkey, where the Ukrainian club are training ahead of the new season, to steal a march on their London rivals

Shakhtar confirmed a deal with Chelsea was “very close”.

A statement on the club’s official Twitter account said: “FC Shakhtar president Rinat Akhmetov and Chelsea co-owner Behdad Eghbali discussed Mykhailo Mudryk’s transfer to Chelsea FC today.”


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