Graham Potter’s low-key revolution at Chelsea is starting to make noise. There’s no indication that Thomas Tuchel’s replacement will struggle to cope with big Champions League nights and, while it’s not Potter’s style to blow his own trumpet, he could be forgiven for thinking how far he’s come watching his new team cruise. to victory at San Siro.
These are times to be cherished for a man who once coached students at the University of Hull. Potter is now operating at a much higher level and his shrewd coaching has put Chelsea’s Champions League campaign back on track.
They are once again a stable team, balanced with and without the ball, and their new owners will be even more optimistic about their decision to sack Tuchel given that the past seven days have involved Chelsea twice dismissing Milan, even though the Italian champions are right to say that a fourth straight win for Potter owes a lot to their momentum which was killed by Fikayo Tomori’s controversial red card.
Perhaps it would have turned out differently if Tomori, who must take his share of the blame for a panicked attempt to stop Mason Mount from shooting when he was on goal at 0-0, had been more lenient. to his former team. Yet the mockery directed at German officials was about as fierce as that of Milan. Chelsea were comfortable with goals from Jorginho and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang taking them top of Group E, and will progress to the knockout stages if they win at RB Salzburg in a fortnight.
It was an impressive response for taking a point in their first two group games. Confidence was restored by that crushing victory over Milan at Stamford Bridge last week and there was no sign that Chelsea would be intimidated on this historic old ground. “Coming here and winning is not easy,” Potter said. “We played well.”
Chelsea, still without N’Golo Kanté, injured, played with confidence. Potter shuffled the pack again, dropping Ruben Loftus-Cheek and opting for the technical duo of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in midfield. The plan, to silence the din by controlling the tempo, was effective. Chelsea exploited the space behind Milan, who struggled without Simon Kjær and Davide Calabria in defence, and quickly announced their threat, with Reece James and Mount linking up and Raheem Sterling causing trouble before the pivotal moment came at the 18th minute.
Inevitably, it was James who took Milan apart, curving a pass to Mount. There was too much room for Chelsea’s irrepressible right-back, who was unfazed by Rafael Leão’s scoring challenge, and questions had to be asked about Theo Hernández’s insistence on drifting into midfield. The left-back failed to engage James and alarm spread as Mount rushed in.
Nonetheless, there was outrage when Daniel Siebert pointed the spot, judging that Tomori had deliberately denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity. A penalty and a red? The punishment looked severe as the contact seemed minimal as Tomori struggled with his former Chelsea academy team-mate, although the Milan defender’s clumsiness prevented Mount from getting a clear shot, but the red card was instantaneous.
“I don’t think it’s been the referee’s best night,” said Stefano Pioli. “I asked if the VAR was working properly.”
Tomori, whose second straight clash against his former club could hurt his chances of making England’s World Cup squad, couldn’t rely on VAR. It was infuriating for Milan, who slipped to third place in the group. Their protests were furious and one fan even tried to push Jorginho away by shining a laser pen into the midfielder’s eyes ahead of his penalty. No matter. Jorginho didn’t blink before sending Ciprian Tatarusanu the wrong way.
Milan were incandescent. They kept complaining about the referee, who infuriated them with a flurry of bookings, and almost used their sense of unfairness to equalise. Brahim Díaz’s cross caught Chelsea taking a nap, but Olivier Giroud took the lead from close range.
Chelsea fidgets. They pushed again, displacing Milan with a long passing streak, with Kovacic picking up the pace to find Mount. A clever flick opened up Milan and Aubameyang, fending off Sterling, netted his third goal for Chelsea.
The game was dead. With Ben Chilwell driving on the left, there was dynamism at Chelsea. Mount saw a shot cleared before making way for Conor Gallagher at halftime. Aubameyang came close, while at the other end there was little to fear Trevoh Chalobah, Kalidou Koulibaly and Thiago Silva, who excelled on his return to San Siro.
Overwhelmed by injuries, Milan is running out of steam. Potter’s only concern was seeing James limping with a knee problem. Chelsea won’t want to be without him for long, but otherwise the mood is good.