Chelsea’s winger confusion points to worrying problem

Chelsea’s wingers need clear direction if Graham Potter’s side are to improve their attacking output

Ollie Cooper
Monday 06 February 2023 09:46 GMT
Chelsea: Graham Potter insists there are 'positives' despite goalless draw with Fulham

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Despite the fanfare of a flood of new players for record fees, the relief of the dire injury crisis seemingly coming to an end, and reasonable results against Crystal Palace and Liverpool, Chelsea have never cut a more confused figure.

This confusion manifests itself perfectly in the form of the Blues’ wingers. Currently, in their Premier League squad, there are no less than eight players who can play behind Kai Havertz in attack, yet Graham Potter doesn’t seem to know what his strongest wide pairing is and, perhaps more worryingly, how he wants his wingers to play.

While it would be easy to blame this on-field lack of cohesion on the sheer number of new signings, Fulham boss Marco Silva was quick to point out that only two new additions started in the drab 0-0 draw played out between the two sides on Friday.

Chelsea began the match with new-signing Mykhailo Mudryk on the left and Hakim Ziyech on the right, whose inclusion was all the more perplexing considering the eleventh-hour collapse of a loan deal that would see the Moroccan join PSG just three days earlier.

There seemed to be little in the form of strategy for the wide men. Mudryk, who was taken off at half-time, looked keen to take players on and stretch the game, whereas Ziyech looked to cut back and play trademark left-footed curling crosses in from the right flank.

They were not helped by poor ball progression out of midfield, with Conor Gallagher particularly guilty of providing little to no service to the players in front of him, but neither player saw much success. Mudryk failed to record a single shot or create a chance, and the few glimpses of quality from Ziyech rarely turned into chances or were squandered by Havertz.

So, Potter turned to his substitute’s bench. On came Noni Madueke for the Ukrainian, who had been suffering from a cold, and the returning Raheem Sterling replaced Ziyech.

Sterling looked somewhat lost, unsure of what his manager required from him, shown perfectly after the England forward beat the excellent Antonee Robinson, before turning around and playing a pass back into midfield instead of driving into the space he just created, earning the frustration of the crowd.

Raheem Sterling struggled to exert influence against Fulham
Raheem Sterling struggled to exert influence against Fulham (AP)

Madueke offered more encouragement as he looked to run at Fulham’s defenders, first on the left flank and then on the right, but again, there was no real indication that he was under strict instruction from the Chelsea dugout regarding how to approach his play.

Spectators watched four completely different wingers take the field against Fulham, yet there was no evidence that Chelsea had any idea of exactly what they wanted from them.

Enzo Fernandez and Gallagher didn’t change their approach as the wide men were replaced, continuing to spin fairly anonymous passes into their feet, and no runs in behind.

There were very few occasions where Reece James and especially Marc Cucurella could bomb up the outside.

Perhaps most frustrating for the Chelsea fans was, despite the wealth of attacking options that have bolstered their squad in recent transfer windows, nothing was done at pace.

Everything out wide was slow, sloppy or played too late, with the groans from home fans reverberating louder around Stamford Bridge every time the ball was turned over.

Fans’ frustration was evident as Chelsea faltered
Fans’ frustration was evident as Chelsea faltered (PA)

Fulham defended well, and deserve praise for that, with full-backs Kenny Tete and Robinson both having solid games, but these are defenders who have been exposed by tricky wing play this season. Jarrod Bowen, Alejandro Garnacho and Crysencio Summerville are just a few examples of players finding success against Fulham from the flanks, yet Chelsea couldn’t get past them.

The Blues possess an incredible array of wingers, from multiple title-winners to World Cup semi-finalists, to expensive wonderkids, but you wouldn’t have known it from their last dozen performances; just five goals in their 12 games. That record is not good enough for any team at this level, let alone Chelsea.

If Potter wants this Chelsea side to start winning games, their attacking output simply has to improve; his wingers need clear direction - whether that be stretching the game, coming short and letting the full-backs overlap, or getting closer to Havertz.

For now though, Chelsea’s lack of direction drags into yet another week, and with around €600m being spent on the team this year and the excuse of injuries now less dependable as the crisis dissipates, Potter is under enormous pressure to get something out of his front line and to start winning football matches with Chelsea.

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