Graham Potter channels his inner Thomas Tuchel as Chelsea find their Thiago Silva replacement


Potter follows the Tuchel path

  Ahead of the visit of Leeds United to Stamford Bridge , there was mounting speculation another defeat would spell the end of Graham Potter’s Chelsea tenure. Perhaps that influenced his decision to deviate away from the 4-2-3-1 system used since the World Cup break.

Potter opted to set his side up in the 3-4-2-1 shape that became Thomas Tuchel’s trademark. There was also the selection of Ruben Loftus-Cheek at right wing-back, another of the German’s tactical tricks, although one admittedly influenced by the absence of Reece James and Cesar Azpilicueta due to injury.

It was a change that paid off for much of the opening 45 minutes. Chelsea were vibrant and surpassed the intensity brought by Leeds. There were no goals, though. Kai Havertz missed a glorious one-on-one opportunity. Joao Felix rattled the crossbar. Ben Chilwell volleyed wide.

There was understandable concern at the interval that Chelsea’s inability to convert chances would cost them. Fortunately, eight minutes after the restart, Wesley Fofana met a Chilwell cross and powered his header beyond Illan Meslier. Stamford Bridge erupted - no surprise given it was the first Chelsea goal witnessed at the stadium since January 15.

The question was whether the Blues would be able to hold onto their lead and secure just a third win in sixteen premier league matches. There were nervy moments - especially from set pieces - but Chelsea dragged themselves over the line. The win didn’t improve the Blues’ position in the table, they remain tenth and with little reason to look upward, but the emotional impact of winning ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Borussia Dortmund shouldn’t be understated.

“I’m delighted for the players and the supporters because they are the most important people at the club," Potter said during his post-match press conference . "If we don’t get results, then that’s my responsibility and I accept that. "It’s been a tough period for us all but it’s nice to go home with a win. We now have to prepare for a really exciting game on Tuesday night, which I’m sure will be a fantastic atmosphere and we want to win.”

Sterling on the rise

When Raheem Sterling was signed in the summer from Manchester City, the expectation was he would become the leader of the Chelsea attack. There were promising signs during the early weeks of the campaign but the England international was then crowbarred into a wing-back role and his output dipped. An injury sustained – somewhat ironically – against Man City in January further hampered his progression.

Yet since his return last month, Sterling has performed well. He was unfortunate not to score at least once against Southampton, had a rare sight of at Tottenham, and was a constant threat against Leeds. There was a directness to Sterling's game and he created the first clear opening of the contest for Havertz that wasn't taken.

Used on the right of the front three, the 28-year-old was able to drift inside on occasion and he was the spark of several counter-attacks. That he was replaced in the 67th minute was a surprise – Sterling himself didn't appear entirely at least with the decision – but it was one taken to protect him from overload ahead of Tuesday night's clash.

Impressively, however, he played more key passes (three), completed more dibbles (four), and was fouled (three) on more occasions than any of his teammates.

Fofana the leader

Thiago Silva has been the standout performer for Chelsea this season. The Brazilian's class hasn't been diminished amid the club's poor form, his performance level has remained outlandishly high given he celebrates his 39th birthday later this year. However, for the next six weeks, he is stuck on the sidelines due to a knee injury.

Who replaced Silva in the defence was a big decision for Potter to make. Ultimately, he went with two players: Fofana and Benoit Badiashile. Fofana has not had it easy at Stamford Bridge. He was signed from Leicester City for a fee believed to be around £70million but four games into his Chelsea career, the France Under-21 international suffered a knee injury.

That was against AC Milan in October and he only returned to action two weeks ago against Southampton. The 22-year-old played 45 minutes against the Saints and the best part of an hour during last weekend's defeat to Tottenham. His return to the starting XI for the visit of Leeds was timely and Fofana produced a display full of quality but, perhaps more importantly, character. He didn't shirk a challenge, battled for every header, and dished out instructions to teammates when required.

That he scored what proved to be the winning goal – a well-directed header from a Chilwell corner – was deserved reward for his overall performance.

"We’ve missed him," Potter told . "It was the Milan game at home when he suffered his injury and that was a long time ago. He brings something different: physicality defends big spaces, and allows us to defend a little higher because he has the pace to recover. In the box, he can attack the ball well. He’s a young player and adapting to Chelsea, but he’s got the personality.”

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