Graham Potter drops Chelsea tactical hint ahead of Borussia Dortmund clash with Reece James role


Graham Potter has hinted that he will be sticking with a back- three for the return Champions League last-16 leg against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, explaining why the onus is not just on Kai Havertz to get goals in the team. The German striker once more played the full match despite not registering a goal or an assist as his side were left to rely on a set-piece in order to find a way past Leeds on Saturday.

Wesley Fofana's winning goal, just the fifth for the team in the past 12 games, came via a corner, meaning that only two goals have been scored from open play in 2023 by the Blues. It wasn't for the want of trying as multiple clear opportunities once more presented themselves Chelsea's way, especially in the first half. Joao Felix sent his shot against the bar whilst Ben Chilwell couldn't convert his first time volley.

Havertz himself missed a great chance, seeing his weak one-on-one effort saved by Illan Meslier. It followed a common recent theme for Chelsea but did see a tactical tweak from Potter to accommodate his available players. Reece James was rested out of precaution after a tight hamstring and is in line to face Borussia Dortmund, with the boss turning back to a three-man defence regardless of being without his first choice for the key position.

Having gone to a four-man defence in recent weeks, showing little sign of his acumen for tactical flexibility, Potter admitted that the back-three made Chelsea look more assured.

"Yeah, I think it would," he said after the match. "Obviously it hasn’t been as straightforward as it sounds because we’ve had people dropping off regularly really, which has made it hard to have that consistency that you need, that we want. "But in the meantime we have to keep working, which is what we’ve done. But yeah, I thought we had a nice balance about us. We were better in terms of attacking certainly of the first half. And that’s something for us to improve."

Potter used Ruben Loftus-Cheek on the right as a makeshift wing-back as he acted as a replacement for James against Javi Gracia's men, something Thomas Tuchel first tried just over 12 months ago to good success. The turn towards the old system appeared to work too, giving Chilwell more attacking freedom, whilst James has also been at his best in an advanced role.

The English pair have had a large portion of goal participation in the past 18 months considering their defensive tendencie s and they have been truly missed whilst injured. In their wake there hasn't been a consistent goalscoring threat or finisher in the team, something that has fallen on the shoulders of Havertz. The German was defended after another goalless game, though.

"I think we have to attack better as a team and that’s my responsibility," Potter explained. "It’s too easy to zoom into individuals and blame them. It’s a collective, we have to create more, do better and that starts with me, helping the team get better chances more chances because then I don’t doubt the quality of the players."

The return of the flying wingbacks also allows some pressure to be taken off Havertz, who hasn't proved himself to be a reliable forward when it comes to output across his two and a half years in England.

"Both of those, Ben and Reece, have been unavailable for us for a long time so we’ve had to find different solutions," Potter continued. "But clearly that’s two roles that they’re comfortable in and brings out their quality so something for us to go forward with."

Chelsea will need them to be on top form against their Bundesliga opponents, a game in which they will need to score at least two goals in if they are to progress outside of penalties. Without James, Chelsea haven't scored two in a single game since October, a worrying sign, but the good news is that there is a big chance of the 23-year-old being back in the team for European action.

“Reece just felt a little bit of tightness," Potter said before the game on Saturday. "Which is sometimes understandable when he’s coming back from an injury. We’ve been assessing this week; we feel it’s too soon for the game on Saturday, but there’s a strong chance he’ll be available for Tuesday."

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