A Chelsea win buys Potter some time but this one won’t change any minds

Ian King
Wesley Fofana gives Chelsea the lead against Leeds United in the Premier League

Chelsea got three points and a clean sheet from the visit of a very limited Leeds United, but their performance won’t change many minds about Graham Potter.


The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. In April 1970, the FA Cup final replay between Chelsea and Leeds United attracted a British television audience of more than 28m viewers, the third highest UK audience for a sports broadcast (behind the 1966 World Cup and Euro 2020 Finals) and the sixth highest for any UK television broadcast. Leeds were chasing a treble of League title, FA Cup and European Cup. They ended the season with nothing, finishing second behind Everton. Chelsea finished third, but won the FA Cup. 

What was one of the biggest games in club football in 1970 arrived in 2023 under something of a cloud. For Leeds United, victory this season looks like staying in the Premier League. After what felt like an endless period of dithering they finally settled on a new manager, and the Javi Grac-era began with a 1-0 win against Southampton which lifted them out of the relegation places. A small sign of progress following a run of ten straight games without a win; more than a quarter of their season.

That Chelsea were beaten by the same scoreline at home by Southampton in their last home league game says something about their state of mind going into this game. The Graham Potter Experiment may sound like a free-form jazz trio, but if that’s what it is, then it’s been starting to feel as though this particular jam has been meandering off down a cul-de-sac with no-one involved quite knowing where they’re heading for quite some time.

There’s no way of sugar coating it. At 3pm, Chelsea were in 10th place in the Premier League, having scored just 23 goals in 24 Premier League games and having failed to score more than a single goal in a Premier League match since the 27th December. Graham Potter doesn’t seem to know his best team, results have been poor, performances have been no better, and there have been very few signs of improvement on the horizon. This would be bad enough had the club not spent vast, vast, vast amounts of money on expectation raising new players.

And an avalanche of bad luck – particularly with injuries – hasn’t helped. On the morning of this game came another piece when it was confirmed that Reece James would not be available for this game. The absence of James has not been the direct source of Chelsea’s biggest issue this season – that’s come in front of goal – but it’s been clear that so much of their best football this season has come through him that his absence would always be a big loss.

By 3.45pm, results elsewhere had ensured that Chelsea had dropped to 11th place in the Premier League while Leeds had dropped to 18th. This was, perhaps, appopriate at the end of a fairly indistinguished half of football. Chelsea had the best chance, with Joao Felix rattling the underside of the Leeds crossbar, but after a reasonably impressive first half hour a familar pattern started to reveal itself. Chelsea’s early press started to give way to stray passes and bad decisions. Leeds started to impress themselves a little more upon the game. When the half-time whistle blew with the score still goalless, there was more than a smattering of booing around Stamford Bridge.

But if the combination of hoovering up European football’s best young talent on extremely long contracts under a galaxy-brained manager who definitely loves a whiteboard isn’t quite doing it for you, you can always revert to something more basic. More atavistic. Seven minutes into the second half Chelsea took the lead, and did so in a way that made something of a mockery of all the tactics talk that we engage in. If in doubt, sling in it, on this occasion a corner from the left to which the not-insubstantial Wesley Fofana arrived first, literally muscling everybody else out of the way to bomb the ball past Illan Meslier and finally bring Stamford Bridge to life.

Except it didn’t quite. The truth of the matter is that Leeds are near the foot of the Premier League table on merit. Beating Southampton had been something of an improvement, maybe just an inevitable bout of new manager bounce against the weakest team in the division. But when the chips are down, their players are fairly limited and bringing in a new manager to rearrange them after a transfer window does on this evidence look a little like reshuffling the chairs on the Titanic.

But yet again, having taken the lead Chelsea couldn’t really build on their one-goal advantage. It started to feel as though the fate of the game would be determined by whether Leeds would be able to find a way to score an equalising goal. And this isn’t a position in which Leeds particularly want to ever find themselves, if they can possibly avoid it. Chelsea’s issues in front of goal have been much reported, but Leeds had also failed to score more than a single goal in a league game since the 4th January. They put enough a stout enough performance, but never really looked like scoring.

There was a diverting moment with ten seconds of stoppage-time to play when Meslier went up for a corner and headed the ball into Kepa’s arms, but this moment of relatively middling drama was about as good as things got from the closing stages of a match which never really caught light. There are obvious positives that Graham Potter can take from this performance. A horrendous run without a win has ended, Chelsea are back in the top half of the Premier League, and a little of the pressure hanging over him will have lifted. A little.

But it should also be added that this performance didn’t feel a like a corner being turned for Chelsea, either. Scraping a 1-0 win against a team that finished the afternoon in the relegation places feels like a cause for celebration brought about from a sense of relief rather than joy, particularly when we consider that the goal came from just about the basic source possible, with few signs all afternoon of the sort of attacking flair that you’d expect from a team upon which so much money has been lavished. Graham Potter may have bought himself a little breathing space with this win, but it would be difficult to argue that he’s brought himself much more. Few minds will have been changed by another anaemic Chelsea performance, despite the three points.