Chelsea 1-0 Leeds: Wesley Fofana finds the breakthrough for the Blues
Chelsea 1-0 Leeds: Wesley Fofana finally finds the breakthrough for the Blues as French defender heads home the only goal to hand Graham Potter a much-needed victory over relegation-threatened Leeds
- Defender Wesley Fofana secures an important victory for under-pressure Chelsea manager Graham Potter
- The Blues had been assertive and threatening in the opening period but were unable to find an opening goal
- Re-live the action as it happened as Chelsea secured a much-needed win over relegation-threatened Leeds
Finally an injection of oxygen. Graham Potter, for weeks, must have felt like he was suffocating.
After this tense victory, there’s some room to breathe. Not loads, crashing out of the Champions League against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday and the Chelsea head coach will feel like he’s gasping for air again.
But, at least for the time being, the pressure on Potter has alleviated.
The defining moment arrived seven minutes into the second half, Wesley Fofana hanging highest before nodding Chelsea to this crucial victory.
For the club’s co-controlling owner Todd Boehly, there’d have been some sense of justification.
Wesley Fofana broke the deadlock for the home side in the 53rd minute meeting a Ben Chilwell corner to head Chelsea in front
Fofana’s ultimately winning goal came from the centre of the box as he met the English defender’s corner in the second half
The American tycoon has been among Potter’s most vociferous supporters behind the scenes in recent weeks.
With others – fans included – questioning the sense in keeping faith with a manager who has led the team to a sequence of just two victories in 12 matches, Boehly has stood by Potter’s corner.
This won’t totally repay Boehly’s backing – but it’s a start at least. Indeed, it was hard not to feel a similar sense of relief for Potter.
Impartiality aside, the 52-year-old has carried himself with immense dignity when the world around him appeared to be caving in. He deserves this, albeit temporary, respite.
The opening 45 minutes provided enough reason for Potter to be encouraged, though given the way things have gone recently it wouldn’t have taken much.
Chelsea’s first half performance was assertive and threatening. Three decent chances: Kai Havertz, Joao Felix and Ben Chilwell – who was excellent all afternoon – all wasting good opportunities.
Felix’s 22nd minute that cannoned off the underside of the cross bar was particularly eye-catching.
Raheem Sterling, down Chelsea’s right, appeared to be inching his way back to form after injury.
Todd Boehly (centre) has been among Graham Potter’s most vociferous supporters behind the scenes in recent weeks
The victory will have given Potter a welcome injection of oxygen after a difficult period at the helm at Stamford Bridge
Kai Havertz had the best chance of the first half and drew a good save out of Leeds’ French goalkeeper Illan Meslier
The England international’s future has been questioned in recent days, but if Potter is to transform Chelsea’s season then Sterling will surely be central to his plans.
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Chelsea (433): Kepa 6.5; Fofana 7.5; Koulibaly 7.5, Badiashile 7.5, Chilwell 8; Loftus-Cheek 6.5 (Chalobah 84), Kovacic 7 (Chukwuemeka 75), Enzo 7 (Madueke 84); Sterling 7 (Zakaria 68, 6), Havertz 6, Felix 6.5 (Gallagher 68, 6).
Subs: Bettinelli, Aubameyang, Chalobah, Mudryk, Ziyech.
Manager: Potter 7
Leeds (4222): Meslier 6, Ayling 6.5, Koch 6.5, Wober 6, Firpo 6; Adams 6.5, McKennie 6.5; Summerville 6.5, Harrison 6.5 (Greenwood 80); Rutter 6 (Gnotto 68, 6), Aaronson 6 (Joseph 68).
Subs: Robles, Roca, Gyabi, Struijk, Kristensen, Greenwood, Gray.
Manager: Gracia 6
Referee: Michael Oliver 6
He was potent here during the first-half, laying on the chances for Havertz and Felix.
Enzo Fernandes also caught the eye, his mixture of relentless work rate and striking technical ability will become a feature for Chelsea in the years to come, regardless of who the manager is.
But that simply isn’t enough for Chelsea and Potter right now. Goals and victories are what’s required.
Because for all the positivity, this was their eighth successive half of football with hitting the back of the net.
If you’re looking for a simplistic view as to why Potter’s future at Stamford Bridge is under a cloud, there it is in a nutshell.
Had Jack Harrison mustered more power on his effort on the stroke of half-time then you wonder how the home supporters would have reacted.
The Chelsea fans are turning; and that’s putting it politely.
They resisted the temptation to vent their frustrations after the team’s latest goalless return as the half-time whistle blew.
Yet there was a palpable sense of what was to come in the event of Leeds taking the lead. It wouldn’t have been pretty for Potter.
As for Leeds, they were organised and compact. Recently appointed head coach Javi Gracia wore a pained complexion for the most of the half.
But his team were dogged and diligent, much like Gracia’s Watford team were under his stewardship.
The second period started much like the first, with Chelsea in the ascendancy; Sterling stretching to fire Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s cut-back over the bar inside two minutes of the restart.
And finally, in the 52nd minute, Chelsea scored the goal their performance deserved.
It was simple when it arrived, Fofana towering over Max Wober to powerfully head Chilwell’s outswinging corner beyond Illan Meslier.
The France defender dashed off before launching into another leap, this time with a clenched fist as he celebrated his first Premier League for Chelsea.
Potter’s reaction was similar, of course. Finally, a hint of a smile. Finally, some hope.
Luke Ayling’s Leeds are now sat just a point above the relegation zone with just 21 points managed from 25 games this season
Fofana’s input in his debut season with the Blues has been restricted as a result of a serious injury earlier in the season
Who knows, if Fofana had been fit and available for the majority of the season then perhaps Chelsea wouldn’t be in this position.
The central defender arrived from Leicester in deal worth £70million with a heavy weight of expectation.
But a serious knee injury meant this was only his third top-flight start. How they’ve missed him.
Yet, as Potter is finding out, things are rarely simple for Chelsea this season.
The Blues were indebted to Kalidou Koulibaly’s instinctive block in the 60th minute before Weston McKennie headed narrowly wide as Leeds pressed for an equaliser.
By this point Potter had sacrificed Sterling for defensive minded Dennis Zakaria while workaholic Conor Gallagher replaced Joao Felix as the Blues boss opted for work-rate over finesse.
Instead of looking for a second that would kill Leeds off, the game plan from here on in was clear.
The anxiety around Stamford Bridge was tangible as the game reached the closing 10 minutes.
Leeds sensed Chelsea were buckling under the pressure and threw caution to the wind.
Raheem Sterling was sacrificed after the hour mark for the more defensively minded Denis Zakaria on loan from Juventus
The anxiety around Stamford Bridge was tangible as the game reached the closing 10 minutes in a closely-fought battle
With Chelsea leading from the 52nd minute the relegation-threatened visitors pressed for an equaliser late in the game
Ayling went close with a back-post header before substitute Joseph saw his injury time effort held by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Incredibly, Meslier – who stormed up the pitch for a last-gasp corner – wasted Leeds’ final opportunity of the game, his header arrowed straight into the hands of a grateful Arrizabalaga.
The final whistle was greeted with a collective sigh of relief from those with blue tendencies.
Buckle up, though, we get to do it all again on Wednesday night.
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