During one of the games in Chelsea’s recent mid-season slump, those privy to their match plans were left scratching their heads.
As they watched Graham Potter’s team toil on the pitch one of a number of things stood out – what they had worked on in the build-up was clearly not being replicated in front of them on the pitch. At times, it was the total opposite.
As Chelsea’s struggle for results continued after Potter had made an impressive, nine-game unbeaten start it was the sort of occasion that left some wondering if there were reasons beyond their crippling injury crisis to explain the slide.
Were their issues as much due to some players not being able to carry out what was being asked of them? Or was it because they did not want to? The answer depends who you ask.
That day, in the view of some sources close to Chelsea, also helped highlight that Potter, the man Chelsea’s new owners have put their faith in to lead their project after sacking popular former boss Thomas Tuchel, needed significant backing in the form of players who could put his plans into action in order to succeed.
Chelsea boss Graham Potter has been significantly backed with a £323m transfer splurge
Potter signed eight players last month, including Benfica’s Enzo Fernandez for a record £107m
Co-controlling owners Todd Boehly (R) and Behdad Eghbali (L) helped fund a huge overhaul
He has got the first part in another incredible Chelsea window, with co-controlling owners Todd Boehly, Behdad Eghbali and the club’s new-look recruitment team getting to work, with input from Potter who spoke personally to targets such as Mykhailo Mudryk, overseeing a staggering £320m-plus spree on eight new signings
That followed the £270m spent in the first transfer period of the Boehly/Clearlake Capital era.
Time will tell if the new arrivals can now do the second.
Chelsea return to action against Fulham tomorrow 10 points off the top four in 10th, out of both domestic cups but through to the last-16 of the Champions League.
Striker David Datro Fofana and midfielder Andrey Santos are expected to be ones for the future along with right back Malo Gusto who definitely is as he does not join permanently until the summer.
But the other five January additions – Benoit Badiashile, Joao Felix, Mudryk, Noni Madueke and £107m British record capture Enzo Fernandez – have the combined potential to help transform Chelsea’s season.
It is not inconceivable that once their injury absentees return Potter fields a team containing as few as two players who have been available to him for the majority of the season. The rest could easily all be new faces or long-term injury victims.
With Chelsea 10 points off the top four, Potter knows the pressure is on to make his team gel
Hakim Ziyech was expected to depart, but his move to PSG fell through at the last minute
‘It’s exciting times for me,’ Potter said. ‘There is potential for that [the window changing what Chelsea can achieve this season].
‘That’s why we’re excited with the players we’ve added, excited for the players returning from injury but at the same time you also have to respect the fact that a team needs to come together, we need to gel, we need to work and go day by day.’
Joao Felix is one of several arrivals, but Potter can only register three of Chelsea’s new faces in their Champions League squad
Chelsea’s unprecedented spree might solve some problems for Potter but, at the same time, hand him another big one. His pool of first-team players is now over 30 players strong.
Not all of his new additions can be registered for the Champions League when Europe’s top competition was a notable part of the attraction and sales pitch.
That will be especially galling for whoever is omitted from his squad for this season’s competition as making next season’s is an uphill task.
Due to UEFA rules Potter can only register three of his new faces and also has to drop one member of the existing 24-man squad to do so.
‘There will be a few awkward questions and conversations,’ Potter admitted about his Champions League headache.
Hakim Ziyech is one player a tricky talk is likely to have been had with after the last-gasp collapse of his deadline day move to Paris Saint-Germain.
‘He’s back in the country and he trained this [Thursday] morning,’ Potter said. ‘These stories won’t be the first or last, but he is a professional player and understands the situation. He is committed to us and is available for the squad for the game tomorrow. He’ll be an important player for us for the rest of the season.’
The Blues have struggled for form after Potter originally oversaw an impressive unbeaten start
Mykhailo Mudryk is one of the new additions who is expected to have an immediate impact
Asked about keeping all of his players happy, he added: ‘Challenge is the right word but I’m not complaining about it.
‘Of course, there are challenges in terms of what role they play because most players want to play. They want to play, be on the pitch and help the team.
‘When they are not, it is a challenge and it is a challenge for lots of reasons at this football club.
‘It’s been tough for everybody because there was change in the summer, there’s been change previously to that, there’s been a 20 year ownership which has moved on and a different one’s come in.
‘Loads of things have happened that make it suboptimal. Let’s say that. But if I wanted a nice, easy life then I would have stayed at previous employments.’
In those, Potter will not have had to deal with the envy and resentment that is already starting to come Chelsea’s way due to what they have done in the transfer market.
‘There probably is [some]. That’s life isn’t it?,’ Potter accepted.
He has also had to adapt to having owners who will support him in the way Chelsea’s will.
He said: ‘It would be wrong of me to think I’m in Brighton or back at Ostersunds. We’re at Chelsea, the numbers are different, the ambition is different in terms of where we’re trying to get to.’