March 09, 2022, PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino during the UEFA Champions League match between Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain, played at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium on March 09, 2022 in Madrid, Spain.

Analysing what 6 Graham Potter alternatives could do at Chelsea: Pochettino, Zidane, Mourinho….

Graham Potter’s appointment was supposed to signify the end of Chelsea’s quick-fix era and the beginning of a sensible (not to mention fashionable) ‘projects’ model. But even billionaires with purist intentions are eventually sucked into the narrative vortex of the Premier League, seduced by the hyperspeed created by its unique financial imperatives.

It doesn’t usually take long for owners to realise this is no ordinary business, and although there is currently no indication Todd Boehly is preparing to sack a man that cost £22 million to disentangle from his Brighton contract Graham Potter is under significant pressure.

Chelsea are without a win in five and have scored just once in that time. In the Premier League Potter has overseen two victories in the last 14 matches. These are staggering numbers – and leave Chelsea as close to the bottom three as the top four.

Potter apologists will point out the underlying numbers indicate gradual improvements (Chelsea have recorded a higher xG than their opponents in five of their last six), not to mention the near-impossibility of managing a 35-man squad strewn with big-money summer buys already shunted down the pecking order by newer toys.

But confidence and perception are as important as performances and results, and Chelsea appear to be on a downward trajectory by these measures.

Could anyone else do better with such a bloated squad? Here’s a look at the most likely candidates to take charge should Potter fall – and how they might do things differently:

Mauricio Pochettino

Through skill or luck, Boehly’s amortisation-fuelled spending spree was carried out by a smart and diligent recruitment team that has filled the Chelsea ranks with young and intelligent players schooled in high-pressing, transition-focused football. Broadly speaking all of their new signings score highly on progressive passes (line-breaking balls) and high-energy pressing; on running in straight lines and embodying the German principles we’ve seen dominate the game in recent years.

All of which is to say they have designed the squad of Pochettino’s dreams, not of Potter’s, who at Brighton and Ostersunds created more measured, quiet passing triangles. For an easy comparison, Potter is very Pep Guardiola, while Pochettino is a less radical version of Marcelo Bielsa.

Pochettino loves narrow, vertically-inclined attacks counter-balanced by penetrative full-backs, while his constant hard pressing is married with sudden diagonal switches in possession to attack quickly into open spaces.

The progressive passing of Benoit Badiashile; the intelligence and attacking intent of Marco Cucurella and Reece James; the buzzing forward thrust of Enzo Fernandez and N’Golo Kante; the infield runs of Raheem Sterling or Mykhailo Mudryk; Pochettino would love this team. He might even bring back Romelu Lukaku, who could still be the final piece of the jigsaw.

Critics would highlight his difficulty massaging egos at Paris Saint-Germain but the man-management nightmare at Chelsea is of an entirely different character, and Pochettino – always well-liked by a young Tottenham Hotspur squad – should balance the crowded dressing room better than most.

Kepa: James, Fofana, Badiashile, Cucurella: Fernandez, Kante: Sterling, Felix, Mount: Lukaku

Zinedine Zidane

And now for something completely different. Zidane is Pochettino’s tactical opposite, a man whose gravitas and magnetism unleashed the potential of Real Madrid’s galacticos but left a blank space on the tactics board.

Like Carlo Ancelotti, Zidane has an instinctive talent for picking a team and formation but lacks the sophistication required to manipulate matches in the modern Premier League. He is the perfect man to oversee PSG as the wizened emperor keeping the superstars in line, but not the man to create a new vision, a new brand, for the Boehly era.

Should he take the reins Zidane would prioritise the charismatic older players who are able to control the rhythms of a game without constant instruction from the dugout, which means prominence for Thiago Silva, Kante, Matteo Kovacic, and Raheem Sterling. In a 4-3-3 that turns into a 4-4-2 when out of possession, Chelsea would feel out matches, looking for quiet control of central midfield before winning via those ‘moments’ – a flash of experience, and quality, in the front line.

This team is surely too young and raw for that.

Mendy: James, Silva, Koulibaly, Cucurella: Kovacic, Fernandez, Kante: Sterling, Felix, Mudryk

Luis Enrique

At both Barcelona and Spain Enrique inherited a similar problem and sought the same solution: he took over a squad overly dependent on possession recycling and he solved it by ramping up the directness and urgency of what his players do with the ball. Having watched their team slog to a 1-0 defeat to Southampton on Saturday, Chelsea supporters will like the sound of that.

Although a firm believer in high pressing to win back the ball and rapid counter-attacks, what differentiates Enrique from Pochettino is the latter’s use of automatisms (set plays drilled in training, until passing moves are instinctive and repetitive), whereas Enrique expects a more improvisational approach among his forwards.

His Barcelona were ultra-narrow in a 4-3-3 with Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar interacting in close contact, as Enrique effectively deployed the classic Barcelona model but with the dial turned towards sharp forward passing in the final third. In that respect, he is perhaps a midpoint between Pochettino and Potter, although given the unique circumstances of his one and only club job Enrique is something of an unknown.

Nevertheless, we can anticipate he would favour, above all else, controlled possession in the middle coupled with speed among a fluid front three.

Kepa: James, Silva, Badiashile, Cucurella: Kovacic, Fernandez, Mount: Sterling, Aubameyang, Mudryk

The wildcards: Tuchel, De Zerbi, Mourinho

Chelsea fans always liked Thomas Tuchel and would probably be open to giving him another shot, especially now that the squad favours his Germanic style of football. Watching Tuchel in the dugout at Stamford Bridge it was always clear he wanted his players to be obsessively playing passes in behind the opposition defence, and with the likes of Badiashile and Fernandez to play them – and more options in Mudryk or Noni Madueke to receive them – he could make it work.

It’s hard to imagine Boehly returning cap in hand, mind.

Mendy: Silva, Badiashile, Fofana; Cucurella, Fernandez, Kante, James: Mudryk, Felix, Sterling

Chelsea really like Brighton, their players and their managers, and Roberto de Zerbi has built on Potter’s foundations to add goalscoring umph. Why not try again? In a super-attacking 4-2-3-1, De Zerbi would certainly be a lot of fun.

Kepa: James, Badiashile, Fofana, Cucurella: Fernandez, Mount: Madueke, Felix, Mudryk: Aubameyang

How deep will Boehly fall into the Premier League abyss? If it eats him alive then he could always return to the great Chelsea legend Jose Mourinho… an out-dated coach and entirely inappropriate tactical fit. Still, you never know. Crazier things have happened and it would be spectacular to watch. There is no way Mourinho’s cliques could excel in a 35-man squad, and nor would these young progressive players accept his defensive pragmatism.

Mendy: James, Fofana, Silva, Badiashile: Kante, Fernandez, Zakaria: Mount, Havertz, Sterling

By Alex Keble

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