Mailbag: Potter at Chelsea, Liverpool's rebuild, relegation.
Plus: giving second chances to failed youth players, and the football TV rights bubble
Hi, everyone, got five questions I’ve answered today. There’s no point wasting time with an intro you’re likely to skim anyway, so let’s get on with it.
Any stats are from FBRef unless stated otherwise.
Ayo Laiye asks…
“Is Potter out of his depth at this level or Chelsea strategy is just too broken?”
There were a lot of questions on Chelsea and Graham Potter, so I’ll try to broadly answer all of them here.
There are rumours Potter is only one bad result away from losing his job, so he might have been sacked by the time you read this. And I’m really ambivalent about it. I don’t think Potter is doing a good job at all, but we’re at a point in the season where Chelsea are playing for nothing. FiveThirtyEight estimates Chelsea would need 68 points to make the top four. That means 37 points from their last 14 games, which means not just title-winning form but playing at a 100-point pace. It’s over.
Chelsea have been very bad under Potter. They were bad towards the end of Thomas Tuchel’s time, but they’ve been worse with Potter. Can I find evidence in the data that this team is improving? A little bit, yes. Chelsea played eight league games under Potter before the World Cup and ten since. If we break up his tenure into those two halves, we can see that xG has improved by 29% in attack and 24% in defence after the World Cup. There’s a little bit of team quality effects in here, but not a lot (538 estimates Chelsea’s opponents before the break had a rating of 73.4, and after have a score of 70.4, the difference between tenth and eleventh. It’s not a big deal). This isn’t nearly enough for him to feel hard done by if he loses his job. But, hypothetically, someone might point to it one day as the moment when Potter started turning it around.
The argument for keeping him is that Potter really will turn it around and make Chelsea an excellent side, with this terrible first season just constituting teething problems. There’s still a chance of that, though it gets smaller with every bad result and performance. When you ask about managers who turned it around after a poor start, you get a list of some of the best coaches in history (or at least managers above the standard expected at those clubs). I tend to think we’re dealing with survivorship bias here. It’s very, very hard to turn things around after a poor start, and only a really impressive manager can do it (which is why I’m so enamoured with Mikel Arteta right now). So to argue that Potter should stay, you really are betting on him being an elite manager.
I’d probably just leave it until the summer. If they have a new manager lined up who is definitely better than Potter and could go straight in, I’d get it. But they’d probably be putting someone like assistant Anthony Barry in temporary charge while the new manager search begins, which could take weeks or even until the end of the season to find someone they really want. I don’t think that’s enough of an upside to change right now when they could see how it plays out with Potter for a bit longer. The season’s already ruined and there’s not a lot on the line. I would probably sack him in the summer, but I think Chelsea may as well see a bit more from him to be sure.
Rob Hall asked about replacements, so let’s take a look. I’m assuming there’s enough bad blood that Tuchel won’t be coming back. No disrespect to them, but I don’t think a “win now” manager like Antonio Conte or José Mourinho would be much use for all the young players Todd Boehly has signed. Judging from Twitter, Zinedine Zidane would be a popular choice among fans. But managing Real Madrid requires a unique skillset that may not translate to other jobs, and he’s previously said his English isn’t good enough to consider a Premier League job. Even if he decides to take this, his main strength is man management, and I don’t know if that would translate if he lacks a strong grasp on the language.
Mauricio Pochettino would be a better fit in terms of developing young players, though Tottenham might be eyeing him, and he’d surely prefer a return to Spurs. Luis Enrique could potentially be interesting, though I’ve no idea what his plans are. I still think there’s a decent chance Julian Nagelsmann leaves Bayern at the end of this season. He hasn’t really had the transformative effect on this team as hoped, and his salary is pretty modest by elite manager standards. It might be in everyone’s interests if he left Bayern for Chelsea.
Michael Grant asks…
“Who is needed for a Liverpool rebuild that will make them contenders in future seasons? Do you think they will get what they need for a good start on such a rebuild this summer?”