Chelsea outclasses Milan in the Champions League to ignite Graham Potter’s era.
Chelsea outclasses Milan in the Champions League to ignite Graham Potter’s era. The spark that started Chelsea’s run in the Champions League also started Graham Potter’s term as manager. This was only his third game in command of the team since he was appointed on September 8; his first was a 1-1 draw against Red Bull Salzburg.
It was an odd mix of feelings after Dinamo Zagreb’s loss and the dismissal of Thomas Tuchel.
The blue shirts came storming forward from all directions as Chelsea needed a win to keep their tournament hopes alive, and Milan was pursued out of west London and was lucky to escape a serious thumping.
In any case, it was still a rebuke. Milan brings its own kind of event grandeur, from the stylish uniforms to the sight of technical director Paolo Maldini roaming the touchline before kickoff.
Former Milan midfielder Clarence Seedorf was a media commentator, and he was joined by Gianfranco Zola, a Chelsea legend, in front of the press box.
But Milan contributed nothing, and it was certainly surprising to watch the Italian champions defend so laxly, except the explosive atmosphere created whenever Rafael Leo received the ball and started to sprint.
Midway through the first half, Wesley Fofana scored from a poorly defended corner, and after that, Chelsea seemed like they were going to run amok.
Potter had to learn the ropes on the practice field, and he must have been pleased with how his players translated their work at Cobham to the game.
The night was capped off with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s impressive brace. Thiago Silva anchored the defense, and Mateo Kovacic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek led the midfield. But Reece James, as always, was the main attraction.
The right wing-back was a driving force for the club, and his rushes and crosses constantly threatened Milan. The third goal, scored by Aubameyang after Raheem Sterling set him up, sealed one of Chelsea’s greatest victories in a while.
At the final buzzer, James was the focus of the television cameras, and the home fans sang his praises.
Chelsea started slowly against a Milan defense missing their starting goalie Mike Maignan and three of their regular back four players (Davide Calabria, Simon Kjaer, and Theo Hernández).
Mason Mount’s assist on Ciprian Tatarusanu was a nice touch. Still, Chelsea’s four consecutive set pieces in the middle of the first half worried the Milan manager, Stefano Pioli. Where did this come from?
At the beginning of the fourth, a Ben Chilwell corner, Silva headed the ball in, as he had done twice before, but Tatarusanu blocked it away, and the rest of the game devolved into a scuffle. Aubameyang and Loftus-Cheek both worked hard, and Fofana scored on a breakaway after some nice play by the two.
With Potter’s 3-4-2-1 formation, Chelsea had a nice distribution of roles: Sterling and Mount thrived in the No. 10 positions, while James and Chilwell provided breadth and push. By the time the intermission came around, they might have already disappeared.
Mount had a shot blocked after James and Sterling had combined for a pullback, then Mount had the ball in the net after a great finish but was offside. On a similar break, Sterling came close.
Only Milan’s young star, Leo, who had an unusual mix of explosiveness and strength, posed a real danger to the rest of the league.
His initial contribution was to blast away from a group of blue shirts, and he made it plain that he planned to return to this strategy. Silva had to stretch to make a great sliding challenge on Fofana when he got caught with the ball in the 19th minute, but Chelsea won the battle.
In first-half stoppage time, Leo went on a run that took him past four Chelsea defenders and set off alarm bells.
After Charles De Ketelaere nudged the ball toward the goal, Kepa Arrizabalaga (who started instead of the healthy Édouard Mendy) patted the ball out, and Rade Krunic was obligated to score. His aim was so off that even a shot from dead center soared into the air. As you may imagine, Chelsea was very disappointed.
There was needle and some nasty challenges, and both Krunic and Fodé Ballo-Touré deserved their yellow cards for their actions in the first half. Fofana was taken out after 38 minutes due to an apparent minor altercation with Leo. The scorer’s level of frustration was through the roof.
To give themselves some breathing room, Chelsea deserved a second goal, and they got it in the 56th minute when James crossed, and Aubameyang easily beat Fikayo Tomori to the ball.
The Chelsea academy product Tomori was left to make a helpless lunge as he experienced a terrifying moment. The outcome was final. After Sterling had hit a long volley, James added the finishing touch.