Signed for Tuchel, Aubameyang ironically the key to Potter inspiring Chelsea momentum

By Sports Desk September 30, 2022

It's 22 days since Graham Potter took over from Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea, and yet he's only just about to take charge of his first Premier League match when they go to Selhurst Park on Saturday.

Potter's one game at the helm came in the 1-1 Champions League draw with Salzburg on September 14, with the postponements following Queen Elizabeth II's death and the subsequent international break ultimately making it a fairly quiet introduction to life at Stamford Bridge.

But with 13 matches across all competitions to fit into the next seven weeks before top-flight football pauses for the World Cup, Potter can ill afford to not inspire some momentum.

Arguably Chelsea's chief problem in the early weeks of the season was a lack of goals, scoring more than once in just three games, and on each occasion they never managed more than two goals.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's arrival at the end of the transfer window was seen as a welcome relief, particularly given how effective he'd been under Tuchel in the past.

Well, that reunion didn't last long, but Potter knows Aubameyang could be the key to kick-starting their season.

A player with baggage

Any concerns Chelsea fans might have about Aubameyang will likely revolve around his attitude and professionalism – few will have forgotten the circumstances that led to his Arsenal exit.

But for those who have, here's the overview.

Last March he was dropped ahead of the north London derby due to a disciplinary issue, perhaps something you wouldn't expect of the club captain – although he was "reminded of his responsibilities" a month earlier after reportedly flouting COVID-19 restrictions to get a tattoo.

Either way, Mikel Arteta continued to give him the benefit of the doubt until another breach of club rules in December was essentially the end of his stay with the Gunners.

Arteta excluded him from the team, ended his reign as captain and made his stance on the player crystal clear when allowing Aubameyang to join up with the Gabon squad early ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations.

The fact many coaches and managers routinely bemoan the timing of the AFCON should highlight how unusual – damning, even – this was.

On February 1, Arsenal confirmed Aubameyang had left the club by mutual consent, paving the way for him to join Barcelona – talk about failing upwards.

"I am living the dream," he said in a Guardian interview published two days later.

In the same interview, Aubameyang suggested Arteta was the only person to have an issue with his conduct. Perhaps he'd still be at Arsenal were it not for his tardiness in December.

A point to prove

He is back in London, however. Aubameyang's stay in Barcelona was little more than a sojourn.

After joining them officially in February, he must've been aware there was always a chance Barca could look to cash in on him quite quickly if the opportunity arose.

President Joan Laporta was desperately trying to raise cash in order to register their swathe of pre-season signings, and the combination of Aubameyang retaining decent market value and being on high wages made him a very sellable option on their part, they just needed someone to come calling.

Given his rather scattergun approach to being an interim sporting director, new Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly probably should've been the obvious candidate, though Aubameyang's links to Tuchel helped the deal make sense.

What made slightly less sense was the fact Boehly sacked Tuchel only a week after Aubameyang signed. Granted, the German isn't the only coach who'd be able to get a tune out of the forward, but you have to wonder what the player was thinking.

Tuchel's familiarity with Aubameyang from their time together at Borussia Dortmund was evident in how he spoke of the 33-year-old shortly after the signing was confirmed.

He said: "Auba, from my point of view, has always been happy to fight for something and to accept the challenge, so the more challenges he has the better it is.

"I know him as [being] very focused and in general a person with a very open heart and very happy to be on the pitch every day. This is what we wanted, he's a very positive influence on the training group.

"He's up for any challenge, he's happy to be on the pitch to score goals and this is what we want."

The "challenge" Tuchel was initially referring to was ending the so-called number nine curse at Chelsea, though it could now extend to winning over a new coach.

A striker out of left field

One of the first things Aubameyang highlighted after joining Barcelona was how Xavi said he'd been earmarked to play specifically as a number nine.

Let's not forget, he spent a great deal of his time at Arsenal operating from the left, and for the most part he was effective there. Yet, you could argue his finishing abilities weren't maximised in that position.

Between the 2015-16 and 2020-21 seasons, Aubameyang averaged at least 0.7 goals per 90 minutes every campaign for Dortmund and then Arsenal, bettering or matching his expected goals (xG, per 90 mins.) in all but one season. Even then, the one term he fell short, he was still scoring at a rate of 0.8 every 90 minutes. Over the short term, one might suggest outperforming xG is a sign of luck, but over a prolonged period it is surely a product of quality.

Aubameyang certainly cannot be accused of being ineffective as a central striker for Barca. His average of 0.8 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes was his best record since 2016-17 (0.8), and he helped Barca enjoy a fine second half of the season to eventually finish runners-up in LaLiga.

His form for Arsenal had been less convincing before his departure. He'd scored only four league goals from 6.6 xG – a comparison of his shot maps last term does show much greater localisation to the centre of the area while at Barca, perhaps understandable given his use as a number nine, though that doesn't completely explain why he underperformed in relation to xG while still at Arsenal.

Aubameyang will hope that spell with Barcelona was something of a palate cleanser. He said himself he has unfinished business in the Premier League.

Uncertainty and intrigue definitely surround his move to Chelsea given Tuchel is no longer there, but if Aubameyang does return to silence his critics then there's every reason to suggest Potter will hit the ground running as well.

Related items

  • Rashford keen for Euro 2020 penalty redemption at World Cup Rashford keen for Euro 2020 penalty redemption at World Cup

    Marcus Rashford is hoping he gets a chance to redeem himself from a missed penalty in England's European Championship final defeat to Italy during the World Cup.

    The Manchester United forward was among three members of Gareth Southgate's side to fail to beat Gianluigi Donnarumma from the spot in the shootout, alongside Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka.

    The trio were then subject to racial abuse on social media, but that has not put him off stepping up for the Three Lions if required in Qatar.

    "Racism is not good to go through as an individual but it's not good to see anyone go through it. [It's] more just disappointment. You're disappointed that people have views like that," he said.

    "And the main reason is that you don't have those views about anyone else, regardless of their race or religion. It's more the disappointment that people are thinking those things, rather than saying them.

    "I've missed a penalty before. You never want to miss a penalty, it's a great opportunity for forwards especially to score goals, and obviously they're big moment.

    "As an individual I've always been comfortable with and enjoy big moments so I'm hoping I get to take another penalty in the tournament. I'm looking forward to it."

    England were booed off following a goalless draw against the United States last time out, but stand on the brink of qualification for the knockout stages – with only a four-goal defeat to Wales in the final match enough to send them home.

    Rashford is confident England will do what is required and will "leave it all out on the pitch" against Wales.

    "It is not often I come away with England and feel like we're going to lose games. I think as a collective, we're very strong," he added.

    "The togetherness is really high and it is a big feature that Gareth puts emphasis on.

    "It is something we have worked on and it has improved as time has gone on. But like I said, the main reason why we are in the position we're in is because we have good players who are willing to work for one another and leave it all out on the pitch.

    "In the next game, we'll definitely look to do that."

  • Croatia 4-1 Canada: Russia finalists hit form to eliminate inexperienced entertainers Croatia 4-1 Canada: Russia finalists hit form to eliminate inexperienced entertainers

    Canada were eliminated from the World Cup after just two matches despite again playing their part in an entertaining encounter as Croatia won 4-1 at Khalifa International Stadium.

    Back at the finals after 36 years away, Canada thrilled in their opening game against Belgium, only to be narrowly beaten.

    It looked to be a similar story again on Sunday, although Croatia were ultimately deserving winners after two goals from Andrej Kramaric and one each from Marko Livaja and Lovro Majer overturned an early Canada lead.

    Alphonso Davies' opener was his country's first goal at a World Cup, but five defeats from five ends their hopes of progression as Croatia join Morocco on four points in Group F.

    That wait for a breakthrough goal extended only 67 seconds into Canada's fifth finals match, with Davies meeting Tajon Buchanan's cross to head the fastest goal of the tournament so far.

    Croatia soon took control, however, and after Milan Borjan twice denied Livaja either side of a disallowed Kramaric goal, two goals ahead of half-time turned the game on its head.

    Borjan had no answer to Kramaric, who squeezed in another finish, and Livaja got his goal with a low effort from the edge of the box.

    John Herdman's men came out for the second half with renewed optimism and went close through both substitute Jonathan Osorio and Jonathan David, but Kramaric continued to threaten and clinically picked out the bottom-left corner to settle it.

    There was time for Croatia to add further gloss as poor Kamal Miller miscontrolled on halfway and gave Mislav Orsic a clear run to advance and unselfishly square to Majer.

    What does it mean? Canada prove unsuccessful entertainers

    Canada's tennis team clinched Davis Cup glory just before kick-off, and their countrymen did not have to wait long to celebrate again. After 50 shots without success across their prior four World Cup games, their 51st found the net through Davies.

    But Croatia were themselves more effective in attack than Belgium had been and recovered from that setback to win comfortably, picking holes in the Canada defence with consummate ease.

    Kramaric leads comeback

    Kramaric showed his class in scoring with two of five attempts, displaying the sort of ruthless touch in front of goal that would have delivered Canada victory against Belgium, if not in this game.

    This was the second match at this tournament to see a team concede first but lead before half-time, the other seeing Croatia's 2018 final conquerors France rally past Australia.

    Such a swift turnaround did not occur once over the previous five World Cups combined.

    Centurion looks his age

    It is rare Luka Modric, at 37, is some way short of being the oldest man in a midfield battle, but Atiba Hutchinson, at 39, is the second-oldest outfield player to play at a World Cup.

    While Hutchinson also became the first player to appear 100 times for Canada on Sunday, all that experience could not make up for a lack of pace that gave Croatia the run of the midfield.

    What's next?

    Canada are out but can still impact the rest of the group, facing Morocco as Croatia play Belgium in a winner-takes-all meeting on Thursday.

  • Belgium 0-2 Morocco: Saiss and Aboukhlal sink Red Devils for famous World Cup win Belgium 0-2 Morocco: Saiss and Aboukhlal sink Red Devils for famous World Cup win

    A superb second-half performance from Morocco secured a famous 2-0 World Cup victory against Belgium at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday.

    Victory for Roberto Martinez's side would have seen the 2018 semi-finalists become the second side to book their spot in the knockout stage, alongside France, but the Red Devils fell short.

    Having seen a first-half free-kick from Hakim Ziyech disallowed, the same tactic provided dividends in the second period as Abdelhamid Sabiri's dangerous ball took a slight touch off team-mate Romain Saiss to put Morocco on course for just a third win in their World Cup history.

    The win was then secured in the final minutes of the game, Zakaria Aboukhlal smashing home from close range after Ziyech's fine work to leave Group F wide open with one round of games to go.

    Belgium saw the majority of possession early on and dictated play, Michy Batshuayi forcing an early save from Munir Mohamedi, who came into the side as a very late change for Yassine Bounou.

    Having been on the back foot for the majority, Morocco thought they had scored on the brink of half-time as Ziyech's free-kick found its way into the net, but Saiss was offside and adjudged to have blocked Thibaut Courtois' line of sight.

    Lightning struck twice for Martinez's side after the break, as Sabiri whipped in a dangerous free-kick from the left to the near post which found its way past Courtois via a faint touch off Saiss, who was awarded the goal, with no offside flag to save Belgium this time.

    Any hope of a late fightback from Belgium was wiped away in added time, Ziyech winning the ball off a poor touch from Axel Witsel and teeing up Aboukhlal to smash home.


    What does it mean? Belgium's fine run ends

    Winning their past eight group-stage matches at the World Cup, victory would have seen Belgium set an outright record in that regard, while they had not lost at this stage of the tournament since 1994.

    Morocco, with just two wins from 17 previous fixtures at the tournament (D6, L9), were largely unfancied before a ball was kicked in a group that contained two semi-finalists from Russia 2018, but they have avoided defeat against both.

    A famous triumph inflicted Belgium's first ever defeat to an African nation at the World Cup, and Morocco now just need a point against Canada to reach the knockout stage for the first time since 1986.

    Moroccan magic

    Heading into the game, Morocco had failed to score in 53 per cent of their World Cup matches (9/17), which stood as the joint-highest percentage of any nation to have played at least 10 matches in the tournament.

    While chances from open play were limited, Morocco's effectiveness from set-pieces proved crucial, with the same move against Belgium working twice – though the first was ruled out.

    Disappointing De Bruyne

    Usually one to pull the strings in midfield, Morocco's fine organisation left Kevin De Bruyne's influence on the match being limited, the Manchester City man creating just one chance for his team during the game.

    De Bruyne ended up being the man at the end of attacking sequences for Martinez's side, with more shots (three) than any of his team-mates but failing to hit the target with any, while also losing possession on a game-high 27 occasions.

    Key Opta facts

    - Belgium have lost seven of their past 19 matches in all competitions (W9 D3), as many defeats as they had suffered across their previous 74 games combined (W57 D10).
    - Morocco's victory over Belgium was their first win in five games at the World Cup (D2 L2). Meanwhile, it was the first time that they had recorded consecutive clean sheets at the World Cup since 1986.
    - Belgium are just the third side to lose their 50th game at the World Cup, after England in 2002 (v Brazil) and Spain in 2010 (v Switzerland), though the latter went on to win the tournament that year.
    - The Red Devils have only scored fewer goals after two games at a World Cup once before (none in 1930) – they had scored eight goals across their first two games in 2018.

    What's next?

    Morocco tackle Canada in their final group match on Thursday, knowing a draw will be enough to secure a spot in the knockout stage, while Belgium lock horns with Croatia on the same day.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.