helsea have drawn up plans to exploit the 13-day gap between their goalless draw away at Liverpool on Saturday and the next fixture at home to Fulham on February 3.
For Graham Potter, the break presents a rare opportunity to do what he does best – work with his team on the training pitch. With Chelsea 10th in the Premier League, 10 points behind fourth-placed Manchester United and out of both domestic cups, that time could be crucial to reviving their season.
After an initial two days off after the Liverpool game, Potter has planned some team-bonding exercises to help integrate his six January signings. Their arrivals mean Chelsea have brought in 15 new players for over £400million since last summer.
Potter will not ask this group of relative strangers to emulate his Ostersunds FK side and perform the ballet Swan Lake. Those left-field activities worked in Sweden but Potter has abandoned them since returning to English football.
He remains set on his values, partly learned while studying for a master’s degree in leadership and emotional intelligence, that understanding his players personally can help breed positive results.
Several senior players have already met Potter and explained their hope in getting away from a narrative of victimhood around Chelsea. Club captain Cesar Azpilicueta spoke of the need to use the break tactically, and to stop making excuses.
He told Standard Sport: “We’re trying to get movement and automatisms. I think it’s important to get that relationship. We had a lot of new players coming in the summer and now in the [January] transfer window so I think it’s important we do that.
“Of course, when you have, as we had, 10-12 players injured it makes it more difficult. And we are playing every few days so the time for recovery is different in a season that is unique with the World Cup in the middle and different loads on players. So we have to adapt and I think it’s important not to use that as an excuse and just move forward.
“Now is when everything is going to be decided, the Champions League starts, so we are out of the cups but we have the Champions League coming so hopefully we can move on.”
Chelsea have, of course, had injuries to deal with over the past three months. Between seven and 12 players have been out during that period. Almost a dozen heads of department have been replaced behind the scenes, including those on the medical side, which has not helped the situation.
The players are also overloaded from last season after playing 63 games in all competitions, with the World Cup condensing the fixture list. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, with Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Ruben Loftus-Cheek back in training and Raheem Sterling, Mateo Kovacic and Wesley Fofana hoping to return in the next fortnight.
Their absences keep disrupting training as Potter looks to find connections on the pitch. He said: “Yes, it is going to be important for us for lots of reasons. We’ve got players coming back from injury that we need to help get closer to the starting XI.
“There are new players who have just arrived so more time on the training pitch is better for them. Also, the team is improving and working on things we can do better. It’s an important time.”
Integrating new signings Mykhailo Mudryk, Joao Felix, Noni Madueke and Benoit Badiashile will give the squad a lift. With Borussia Dortmund to come in the Champions League next month, there are at least 20 more matches for the Blues this season. The next fortnight, Potter hopes, could help breed positive results to turn their season around.
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