Graham Potter has been left with only a handful of senior stars to work with at Cobham with the majority of his new Chelsea players away on international duty
“The beauty of football and life is that you never know what is around the corner – and things can happen very quickly,” Graham Potter said at his unveiling as Chelsea head coach. “I can’t lie, it’s been a whirlwind in terms of leaving Brighton, getting to know people, and learning about the players. But so far, it’s been really, really positive.”
It feels a lifetime ago that Potter was appointed Thomas Tuchel’s successor at Stamford Bridge. The reality is he has only been in charge of Chelsea for two weeks and has only overseen one game: the 1-1 draw against Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League group stage.
Circumstance has played its part in that. Potter’s first match at the helm was set to the trip to face Fulham at Craven Cottage, but that round of Premier League fixtures was cancelled after the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Liverpool were scheduled to visit the following weekend, only for the contest to be postponed due a lack of available police due to the monarch’s funeral.
It’s not until October 1 that Potter will take his place in the Chelsea dugout for a Premier League match. That comes after the international break when the Blues make the journey to south London to face a Crystal Palace side that have won just one of their opening six matches.
Before then, a vast number of Chelsea players will be in action for their respective national teams. Very few have remained at Cobham to train or undertake recovery work, something which should give Potter and his coaching team an opportunity to fully acclimatise to their new surroundings in Surrey.
But is there any reason for Potter to be concerned about what the next week has in store? football.london takes you through what would be the best and worst-case scenarios for the Blues during the current international break.
With Chelsea set to play nine matches throughout October, what Potter needs is every member of his squad fit and ready to be called upon. The international break may help in this respect given that 17 first-team players should see match action for their respective countries.
The majority will be representing their senior sides with Nations League matches and pre-World Cup friendlies scheduled. Yet the likes of Wesley Fofana, Conor Gallagher and Carney Chukwuemeka are expected to feature for France and England’s Under-21s and Under-20s respectively.
There is hope the break from club action will also enable Edouard Mendy to overcome his knee injury. The goalkeeper was called up by Senegal but quickly returned to Chelsea to continue treatment on a knee tendon problem that has seen him miss the Blues’ last two matches.
N’Golo Kante, meanwhile, is making progress in his recovery from a hamstring injury. It was during the second game of the season – the 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur – that the 31-year-old limped off but Kante is understood to be carrying out individual work at Cobham as he pushes toward a return.
One of the few players not away representing their country is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; the 33-year-old retired from international duty with Gabon earlier this year.
Aubameyang joined Chelsea on transfer deadline day from Barcelona and has made two appearances thus far while wearing a specially-created protective mask. That is because he sustained a jaw injury during an assault at his home prior to his move to Stamford Bridge.
“I’m not 100% fit and it’s not easy to play with a mask and with an injury,” Aubameyang said after Chelsea’s draw with Salzburg last week. But hopefully, I will be 100% as soon as possible.”
There was an expectation that Aubameyang would have to wear the mask for three weeks. If the injury has healed as hoped, that should enable the former Arsenal star to take to the Selhurst Park pitch mask-free. And having had more time to integrate following his switch, there will be an expectation that he gets off the mark against the Eagles.
That will also be the case for Armando Broja. The 21-year-old has impressed in several cameo appearances off the substitutes’ bench and has been pushing for his first start for his boyhood club. If he is able to get on the scoresheet in Albania’s Nations League games against Isreal or Iceland, it will be another confidence boost for the Chelsea academy graduate.
This is fairly simple: avoid injuries. Given the schedule Chelsea face next month – as highlighted above – Potter can’t afford to lose any key members of his squad. Even a two-week absence could have huge ramifications with the Blues set to play three of their remaining four Champions League group-stage matches.
Naturally, the other blow Chelsea can ill-afford would be Kante’s comeback being delayed. The Frenchman is a transformative figure, arguably the only true irreplaceable at Stamford Bridge. And that was highlighted during the reign of Tuchel.
When Kante featured for Chelsea in the Premier League under the German coach, be it as a starter or from the substitutes’ bench, Chelsea won 58.5% of their top-flight matches. But without the 31-year-old patrolling in midfield, that figure dropped significantly to 47.5%.
One of the key tasks Potter faces as Chelsea head coach is reducing the reliance on Kante; given his injury record over the past three years and the fact his contract expires at the end of the season, that is only logical. Yet as he settles in at Stamford Bridge, it would be a huge bonus to have Kante fit and ready to go.