Todd Boehly is killing Graham Potter with kindness – Chelsea simply can’t go on like this

Dave Tickner
Chelsea manager Graham Potter looks dismayed during a Premier League defeat to Southampton

One of the season’s most astonishing statistics is that Chelsea are the lowest goalscorers in the top half of the Premier League.

In a way, it’s not that astonishing, because they are 10th. But they are also Chelsea. Oh, and they’re the lowest goalscorers in the top 10 by 12 goals.

Nobody else in the top half has fewer than sixth-placed Fulham’s 35 goals. Chelsea have 23. It’s 13 fewer than 14th-placed Leicester. It’s five fewer than a directionless relegation-baiting Leeds team that now appears entirely devoid of attacking ideas or thought. It’s three goals fewer than Erling Haaland. It’s not really good enough, is it?

Still, though. Chelsea fans should probably hope that statistic keeps being wheeled out for a while, because at least it means they’re still in the top half. It’s no longer a given for that to remain the case.

Or maybe actually Chelsea don’t want to stay in the top half. Maybe given the volume and the anger of the “Potter out” chants – I say chants, ‘visceral pleading screams’ might be more accurate – echoing round Stamford Bridge the fans might accept things getting a bit worse if it forces a change.

Based on today’s efforts, it’s possible the players feel the same. Some of them are playing like they’ve already seen enough of Graham Potter. It’s all a mess. A terrible, expensively assembled mess. Their record in 2023 now reads one win and four goals scored in 10 games across all competitions. Given that, it’s quite a decent effort to produce a performance that is unquestionably the worst of the lot. Today, they managed it.

This was a rotten performance against a Southampton side without a manager and still bottom of the pile despite the three points here. It marked a new low in a Chelsea season full of them. It matters not that Southampton and their temporary manager Ruben Selles deserve huge credit for their organisation and commitment – although they do deserve that – because it simply shouldn’t have been enough.

Chelsea can’t go on like this. There may be a sense that this season is being written off as nothing more than a bedding in period for new players, but at some point the situation becomes untenable.

It increasingly appears like Potter is a manager being killed with kindness by those above him. The unequivocal backing he keeps being given by Todd Boehly is certainly not shared by the fans and nor on this evidence is it shared by the players. And while no manager is going to turn down hundreds and hundreds of millions of pounds of new players, turning that largesse into a functioning football team with your back firmly against the wall might not come quickly. And whether or not it increases the pressure from inside the club, it undoubtedly does so from outside.

James Ward-Prowse celebrates his goal

There were some signs of improvement after half-time and the shock of James Ward-Prowse (who else?) scored from a free-kick (how else?) late in the first half. Raheem Sterling definitely made some difference to the feel of things.

But truthfully it barely warrants a mention, because the first half was so flat and uninspired and the level of improvement so microscopic as to be irrelevant.

If Chelsea can’t overturn a 1-0 Champions League last-16 deficit against Dortmund in a couple of weeks’ time, their season will be over. Whatever mitigations can be applied about injuries or suspensions or integrating new players, it’s hard to see quite how any Chelsea manager could possibly survive it. Especially one with no real credit in the bank. Thomas Tuchel won a Champions League and it did him no good.

There is something grimly funny about Graham Potter finally making the leap from Brighton, a lovely and vibrant football team that infamously couldn’t find a way to score any goals, and ended up at this Chelsea, who can’t find a way to score any goals and are neither lovely nor vibrant.