·5 October 2022
·5 October 2022
Graham Potter’s first season in the competition now looks that much more forgiving, and not just because he finally got that first victory in his second game and the club’s third this season. It was how easily that 3-0 win came or the fact they already go ahead of AC Milan. The Italian champions are supposed to be Chelsea’s biggest challenge, and a potentially huge obstacle in this group given how the English club have already dropped points to Dinamo Zagreb and Salzburg.
Perhaps Conor Gallagher’s late winner against Crystal Palace released something. Perhaps it gave all the training ground work extra momentum. Perhaps it was down to how Milan are trying to work out a new place in the game.
Either way, Chelsea were so much better than them. The contest should have been over by half-time, but it didn’t take too long after it for that to be the case. Potter’s side were able to cruise for the last half-hour.
They could raise it as they wished. They were that much better.
There are of course myriad wider reasons for this, most of them in the billions the Premier League receives compared to Serie A, and how a player like Charles De Ketelaere was actually offered more money by Leeds United.
It meant Milan didn’t just look like a team missing key players such as Theo Hernandez and Mike Maignan. It meant it was impossible not to imagine what they are supposed to be.
A restructured Milan are generally on an upward curve, especially having won a first Scudetto in 11 years last season, but that will bring a few groundings like this. They are still someway off where they should be.
Stefano Pioli’s grand designs on controlling games like this came up against the reality of available resources.
It did not feel a coincidence, or merely a consequence of Potter’s coaching, that Chelsea looked at their freest and liveliest under the new manager so far. They had the space to express themselves but also the superior quality.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the game was the developing understanding between Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mason Mount. They linked up on a few occasions, most divinely with one exquisite goal that was almost cruelly ruled out for offside. Aubameyang had deftly lofted a pass for Mount to then lift it over substitute goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu.
At the least, Chelsea were already 1-0 up by then, as Milan fell to another failing. They struggled to deal with set-pieces. After Thiago Silva had powerfully met a corner, Wesley Fofana was left to force in his first goal for the club.
That made it a bittersweet night for the new defender, as he soon had to go off with an injury. It still says much that will be a bigger worry for Potter than next week’s return at San Siro.
It was just surge after surge and, for a brief period after half-time, chance after chance. That was when Chelsea did enough.
Aubameyang got the goal he deserved by finishing one Reece James’s cross, although there will be questions about Fikayo Tomori’s marking. Maybe that’s why Gareth Southgate has left him out – because Serie A is still beneath the level required.
The England manager is going to find it very difficult to leave James out of his starting line-up, though. Amid so much debate about different qualities of Southgate’s right-backs, James re-emphasised how complete he is. He admittedly didn’t have to do much defending, but used the opportunity to add a brilliant finish to his fine cross. The goal of the night came when James just rammed the ball into the roof of the net.
He almost had the freedom of the box. Milan allowed Chelsea the freedom of the pitch. They now, very suddenly, have a clear path to the last 16. It wasn't the game we expected. But it wasn't the challenge Potter might have expected either.
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