It has been 22 days since Graham Potter replaced Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea and yet he is about to take charge of his first Premier League match when they go to Selhurst Park on Saturday.
Potter’s only game in charge came in a 1-1 Champions League draw with Salzburg on 14 September, with the postponements following the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the subsequent international break eventually making him a Fairly uneventful introduction to life at Stamford Bridge.
But with 13 matches in all competitions to fit in the next seven weeks before top-flight football goes on hiatus for the World Cup, Potter can’t afford not to inspire some momentum.
Arguably Chelsea’s main problem in the opening weeks of the season was a lack of goals, scoring more than once in just three games, never managing more than two goals on each occasion.
The arrival of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at the end of the transfer window was seen as a welcome relief, particularly given how effective he had been under Tuchel in the past.
Well, that meeting didn’t last long, but Potter knows that Aubameyang could be the key to getting his season off the ground.
A player with baggage
Any concerns Chelsea fans may have about Aubameyang are likely to revolve around his attitude and professionalism; few will have forgotten the circumstances that led to his departure from Arsenal.
But for those who have, here’s the overview.
Last March, he was dropped before the North London derby due to a disciplinary issue – perhaps something he wouldn’t expect from the club captain, although he was “reminded of his responsibilities” a month earlier after he reportedly breached instructions. COVID-19 restrictions on getting a tattoo.
Either way, Mikel Arteta continued to give him the benefit of the doubt until another breach of club rules in December was essentially the end of his stay with the Gunners.
Arteta banned him from the squad, ending his reign as captain and making his stance on the player very clear by allowing Aubameyang to join the Gabon squad ahead of the African Cup of Nations.
The fact that many coaches and managers routinely lament the AFCON moment should highlight how unusual, even damning, this was.
On 1 February, Arsenal confirmed that Aubameyang had mutually agreed to leave the club, paving the way for him to join Barcelona; he talks about failing up.
“I’m living the dream,” he said in an interview with The Guardian published two days later.
In the same interview, Aubameyang suggested that Arteta was the only person who had a problem with his behavior. He might still be at Arsenal if it wasn’t for his lateness in December.
A point to prove
However, he is back in London. Aubameyang’s stay in Barcelona was little more than a stay.
After officially joining them in February, he must have been aware that there was always the chance that Barca could cash in on him fairly quickly if the opportunity arose.
Chairman Joan Laporta was desperately trying to raise cash to book his pre-season transfer swath, and the combination of Aubameyang retaining decent market value and commanding high salaries made him a very sellable option on their part, they just needed someone. to come calling
Given his rather scattershot approach to being an interim sporting director, new Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly should probably have been the obvious candidate, although Aubameyang’s links with Tuchel helped make the deal make sense.
What made a little less sense was the fact that Boehly fired Tuchel just a week after Aubameyang signed. Of course, the German isn’t the only manager who could get a tune out of the striker, but one has to wonder what the player was thinking.
Tuchel’s familiarity with Aubameyang from their time together at Borussia Dortmund was evident in the way he spoke of the 33-year-old shortly after the transfer was confirmed.
He said: “Auba, from my point of view, has always been happy to fight for something and accept the challenge, so the more challenges he has, the better.
“I know him as [being] very focused and in general a person with a very open heart and very happy to be on the court every day. This is what we wanted, it is a very positive influence in the training group.
He’s up for any challenge, he’s happy to be on the pitch to score goals and that’s what we want.”
The “challenge” Tuchel was initially referring to was ending the so-called number nine curse at Chelsea, although it could now extend to winning over a new manager.
A forward out of left field
One of the first things Aubameyang highlighted after joining Barcelona was how Xavi said he was meant to play number nine specifically.
Let’s not forget that he spent much of his time at Arsenal operating from the left, and for the most part he was effective there. However, it could be argued that his ultimate abilities were not maximized in that position.
Between the 2015-16 and 2020-21 seasons, Aubameyang averaged at least 0.7 goals per 90 minutes each campaign for Dortmund and then Arsenal, bettering or equaling his expected goals (xG, per 90 minutes) in all seasons. minus one. Even then, in the one period he fell short, he was still scoring at a rate of 0.8 per 90 minutes. In the short term, it could be suggested that beating xG is a sign of luck, but in the long term it is definitely a quality product.
Certainly Aubameyang cannot be accused of being ineffective as Barca’s centre-forward. His average of 0.8 goals without penalties per 90 minutes was his best record since 2016-17 (0.8), and helped Barça enjoy a good second half of the season to finish runner-up in LaLiga.
His form for Arsenal had been less convincing prior to his departure. He had scored just four goals in the 6.6 xG league – a comparison of his shot maps last season shows a much higher localization in the center of the box while at Barca – perhaps understandable given his use as number nine, although that doesn’t matter. it does. fully explain why he underperformed relative to xG while he was still at Arsenal.
Aubameyang will hope that his time at Barcelona has been a kind of palate cleansing. He himself said that he has unfinished business in the Premier League.
Uncertainty and intrigue definitely surround his move to Chelsea given that Tuchel is no longer there, but if Aubameyang returns to silence his critics, then there’s every reason to suggest Potter will start running too.