Chelsea 1-0 Leeds (Fofana 53’)
STAMFORD BRIDGE — A man is only as good as his tools, and so Graham Potter will be grateful the £75m Wesley Fofana was able to secure a nervy Chelsea just their second win of 2023.
With the spotlight on Potter, one Chelsea season-ticket holder told i prior to kick-off that it was the “epitome of madness” to let the head coach oversee both the Leeds and Borussia Dortmund matches at home – with their season arguing resting on the latter tie in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Despite admitting his squad haven’t always been responsive to his coaching methods, Potter had stressed he “feels the support” of his players, adding “we are still fighting for each other” in his pre-match press conference.
Proof of this would come on the pitch on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, where Chelsea’s fans had last witnessed a home defeat to bottom-club Southampton.
And there was promise from the off, with Chelsea showing a united front in the fight to reverse this so-far forgettable campaign.
Potter led the applause when Kai Havertz closed down the ball and earned Chelsea a corner, and from it Wesley Fofana narrowly headed over when meeting Ben Chilwell’s cross at the near post.
Chelsea should have taken the lead when Raheem Sterling led a fast break, with his pass playing Kai Havertz through on goal, only for Illan Meslier to deny the German with a strong right hand.
Chilwell was encouraged to stay wide by his head coach, who stood nearby on the sidelines, and the wing-back was enjoying great freedom down the left and linking it well with Joao Felix too.
The home support remained vocal amid the early chances, and Felix then started a move that resulted in him rattling the underside of the bar after meeting Sterling’s cross and managing to keep the ball down despite arriving at speed. Not down enough, mind, but the chances kept coming for Chelsea with Enzo Fernandez stinging the gloves of Meslier.
Despite the strong start, the 0-0 scoreline was perhaps typical of a Chelsea side who had scored just four times in 11 matches this year, and as the nerves grew Stamford Bridge held its breath when the ball fell to Aaronson, whose effort was blocked by Koulibaly.
There were further groans when Chilwell was unable to turn in a cross, with the England international seemingly torn between shooting and playing it back across the area.
It was a half that ultimately fizzled out for Chelsea, with Leeds growing in confidence too, and it required a last-ditch tackle from Koulibaly to deny Aaronson and keep the score goalless heading into half-time.
From the early promise, it had become a bit too hopeful at times for Chelsea, who were starting to look short of ideas as the half progressed – praying diagonals would penetrate this Leeds defence.
Now three-and-a-half games without a goal, Sterling was close to ending that rut two minutes into the second half, but he could not direct Loftus-Cheek’s cross towards goal.
Shortly after, Chelsea finally broke the headlock, with Chilwell’s corner finding Fofana, a combination that went close in the first half but this time found the net thanks to a fine header from the centre-back.
“We scored a goal!” chanted the Chelsea fans, summing up the relief around the ground as co-owner Todd Boehly celebrated his team’s first goal since 11 February.
The optimism was almost wiped out minutes later, but Koulibaly was able to take the sting out of Georginio Rutter’s shot before Kepa gratefully gathered the ball.
Chelsea were living dangerously, with Weston McKennie heading just wide as Potter made a series of changes – brining Conor Gallagher, Denis Zakaria and Carney Chukwuemeka on for Felix, Sterling and Mateo Kovacic – that proved he was content with the 1-0 scoreline.
It was cagey at the end, with Kepa making his first save after a couple of goalmouth scrambles before denying fellow goalkeeper Meslier at the death. Come the full-time whistle it was relief all around for the hosts – first win since 15 January.
Chelsea player ratings vs Leeds
Kepa Arrizabalaga: Alert throughout, crucially cutting out dangerous crosses but not a save to make until second-half injury time. 6/10
Wesley Fofana: A first start since October, and a sloppy touch early on could have been punished by Leeds. Then picked up the game’s first yellow when cynically bringing down Crysencio Summerville. A threat from corners, though, and after going close in the first half he headed Chelsea into a deserved lead eight minutes after the break. Showed great turn of speed with some defensive work that saw him collide into a steward. Fought for the cause constantly. 7/10
Benoit Badiashile: One of three changes to the side, Badiashile overcame a shaky start and benefited from Koulibaly’s presence at the back. 6/10
Kalidou Koulibaly: Crucial last-ditch tackle denied Brenden Aaronson not once but twice in the first half. 8/10
Ruben Loftus-Cheek: On the right of midfield in Chelsea’s 3-4-3 when attacking, he had a quieter first half than Chilwell and struggled to impose himself at times. 6/10
Enzo Fernandez: A commanding presence in the middle of the park and his partnership with Kovacic has the makings to be Chelsea’s foundation. 7/10
Mateo Kovacic: After recovering from an illness to start, Kovacic skippered the side and led by example in the middle – a calming influence throughout. 7/10
Ben Chilwell: Heavily involved although perhaps lucky to escape a yellow for a risky sliding tackle early on. Eager for the ball and willing to let Kepa know regularly. Arguably Chelsea’s best attacking outlet, with plenty of freedom down the left, while it was his pinpoint corner that found Fofana for the opener. 8/10
Raheem Sterling: Almost assisted Havertz in the first half and was inches away from breaking the deadlock just after the break. 7/10
Kai Havertz: Bided his time for the early chance but was looking to dink it over Meslier then the Leeds goalkeeper stood firm to keep the effort out. 6/10
Joao Felix: So close to breaking the deadlock midway through the first half, and it would have been a reward for his lively start, with the Portuguese star showing quick feet and doing his fair share of pressing to win the ball back too. 7/10
Conor Gallagher, Denis Zakaria: On for Felix and Sterling, the double sub was designed to give Chelsea more control in midfield. Both 6/10
Carney Chukwuemeka: On for Kovacic but little time to make an impact. 6/10
Trevoh Chalobah, Noni Madueke: Both late subs. n/a