Potter's meteoric rise may not be over as Chelsea boss prepares for Brighton reunion

By Sports Desk October 28, 2022

Todd Boehly's quotes when announcing Graham Potter as Chelsea's new head coach last month said much about his burgeoning reputation.

Having dispensed with the services of one of just two men to bring the Champions League trophy to Stamford Bridge in Thomas Tuchel, Boehly described Potter as a "proven innovator in the Premier League", and someone with "skills and capabilities that extend beyond the pitch".

Potter certainly had big shoes to fill, but it has been a case of so far, so good for the Blues boss.

Nine games into his tenure, Potter has yet to suffer defeat, leading Chelsea to fifth place in the Premier League and into the Champions League's last 16 ahead of Saturday's return to Brighton and Hove Albion.

Ahead of Potter's reunion with the Seagulls, Stats Perform reflects on his coaching journey and asks whether his strong start with Chelsea represents a sign of things to come.



From humble beginnings: Potter's stunning journey at Ostersunds

When Potter – whose modest playing career saw him feature in each of the top five tiers of English football – made an unconventional move to Sweden in 2011, few would have expected him to progress quite so rapidly.

Potter was recommended to fourth-tier side Ostersunds by Graeme Jones, then Roberto Martinez's assistant at Swansea City, and they would not regret taking him on. Within seven years, Potter was masterminding Europa League wins against Galatasaray, Hertha Berlin, and most noticeably of all, Arsenal.

Having led the side to three promotions in five seasons, Potter oversaw a Svenska Cupen triumph in 2017, earning the chance to face some of Europe's biggest names.

Ostersunds' 2-1 success at the Emirates Stadium in February 2018 put Potter on the map, despite Arsene Wenger's men triumphing 4-2 on aggregate at the end of their round-of-32 tie. 

Despite his limited resources, Potter became the first English coach to beat the Gunners in a European tie at the Emirates, while Ostersunds were the first Swedish team to win away at an English side since 1995, earning their boss a move to Swansea.

Making waves at Swansea ahead of Brighton move

Swansea were considered one of the Premier League's best-run clubs for much of their seven-year spell among the top flight between 2011 and 2018, but Potter inherited a team unprepared for a promotion challenge following relegation that May.

The Swans allowed several key men to leave in Potter's first transfer window, but the new boss made a big impact: Swansea may have finished nine points adrift of a Championship play-off spot, but a controversial 3-2 defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals put him on the radar of Premier League clubs.  

Despite only spending one season in Wales, Potter was key to the development of the likes of Dan James and Joe Rodon, both of whom went on to join top-six clubs. 

When Brighton were in the mood to change their style of play in 2019, Potter's sterling work on a limited budget in Wales put him high on their shortlist.

Seagulls soar to new heights: Potter's Premier League bow

In the 2018-19 season, Chris Hughton's Brighton staved off relegation by two points, scoring a mere 35 league goals across a dull campaign. Potter's subsequent arrival was not universally welcomed, with several pundits highlighting his lack of top-level experience, but he quickly made them eat their words.

Although finishes of 15th and 16th in his first two campaigns may not have demonstrated obvious progress, Potter's ability to implement a progressive style was clear: having averaged 41 per cent possession in Hughton's final season, Brighton averaged 52 per cent the following year. 

The 2021-22 campaign saw Potter conduct some of his finest work to date, presiding over a ninth-place finish while losing just 11 games. Only Liverpool (two), City (three) and Chelsea (six) were beaten on fewer occasions. 

In addition to the top three, only Tottenham and Wolves posted better defensive records than Brighton last term, and their energetic pressing style was demonstrated by the fact only Liverpool and City won possession in the final third more often than the Seagulls.

Brighton saved arguably their finest performance for Potter's final match, scoring five goals in a top-flight game for the first time (in 364 outings) as they hammered Leicester City 5-2.

The Seagulls fell victim to their own success as Potter was lured to Chelsea four days later, and there are signs he has made an impact quickly in London.

Potter shakes off Chelsea blues with unbeaten start

Potter arrived at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea languishing three points behind Brighton in the early-season standings. He will return to the AMEX Stadium boasting a six-point advantage over his former club, but Chelsea was not a happy place when he took over. 

Many fans felt Tuchel deserved more time following his excellent management of last-season's off-pitch troubles, and while an estimated £250million transfer outlay demonstrated Boehly's intent, their recruitment felt muddled and short-sighted.

Take, for instance, the decision to reunite Tuchel with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, spending £10.3m on a 33-year-old striker before changing coach less than a week later.

Potter, however, has made light of any concerns, becoming just the second Englishman to go undefeated through his first nine games in charge of Chelsea.

While Chelsea dropped out of the top four following a 1-1 draw with Manchester United on Saturday, the Blues' exceptional European form has seen them wrap up top spot in Group E with a game to spare – a commendable achievement given they failed to win their opening two games.

Potter's willingness to switch between a 4-3-3 shape and the 3-4-3 system favoured by Tuchel has helped him to manage his talent-filled squad, while a return of five clean sheets in nine games demonstrates Chelsea's defensive solidity.

At Brighton, meanwhile, Potter's absence has been keenly felt. While his successor Roberto De Zerbi has earned plaudits for the Seagulls' style, he is yet to oversee a victory in five Premier League games (D2 L3).

Should Potter lead Chelsea to a positive result at his former home, De Zerbi will become just the third coach in Brighton's history to not win any of his first six league matches.

Saturday will represent the earliest date in a Premier League season by which a coach has managed for and against the same club. If the teams' contrasting runs of form are anything to go by, it may come far too soon for Brighton.

At Stamford Bridge, meanwhile, things appear to be looking up, and Potter's meteoric rise may be far from over.

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