Graham Potter’s understated revolution at Chelsea is starting to make some serious noise. There’s no sign of Thomas Tuchel’s replacement struggling to face the big Champions League nights and while it’s not Potter’s style to blow his own trumpet, he could be forgiven for thinking about how far he came when he saw his new team cruising to victory in the San Siro.
These are moments to cherish for a man who once coached students at Hull University. Potter is now operating at a much higher level and his shrewd coaching has put Chelsea’s Champions League campaign back on track.
They are another stable team, balanced with and without the ball, and their new owners will be even more optimistic about their decision to sack Tuchel, as Chelsea have beaten Milan aside twice in the past seven days, even if the Italian champions have the right. to argue that a fourth straight win for Potter owed much to their momentum killed by Fikayo Tomori’s controversial red card.
Perhaps things would have turned out differently if Tomori, who has to take his share of the blame for a panicky attempt to stop Mason Mount’s firing when he was 0-0 on target, had shown more leniency to his old team. Yet the booing aimed at the German officials was about as loud as it came from Milan. Chelsea were comfortable, with goals from Jorginho and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang taking them to the top of Group E, and will qualify for the last 16 if they win at RB Salzburg in a fortnight.
It was an impressive response to taking one point from their first two group matches. Confidence was restored by that crushing win over Milan last week at Stamford Bridge and there was no sign of Chelsea being intimidated on this historic old ground. “Getting here and winning isn’t easy,” Potter said. “We played well.”
Chelsea, which was still without the injured N’Golo Kanté, played balanced. Potter shook the pack again, dropping Ruben Loftus-Cheek and going for the technical duo of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic in midfield. The plan, to silence the noise by controlling the pace, was effective. Chelsea took advantage of the space behind Milan, who toiled without Simon Kjær and Davide Calabria in defence, and were quick to say they were threatening. Reece James and Mount came closer together and Raheem Sterling caused trouble before the crucial moment arrived in the 18th minute.
Inevitably, it was James who appreciated Milan and arched a passageway to Mount. There was too much room for Chelsea’s unstoppable right-back, who wasn’t confused by the challenge of flagging Rafael Leão, and questions had to be raised about Theo Hernández’s insistence on drifting into midfield. The left-back failed to engage James and the alarm spread as Mount shot through.
Milan protests after Fikayo Tomori’s red card in the first half. Photo: Claudio Villa/AC Milan/Getty Images
Nevertheless, there was outrage when Daniel Siebert pointed to the dot, assuming Tomori had deliberately denied an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. A penalty and a red? The penalty felt heavy as contact seemed minimal as Tomori struggled with his former Chelsea academy team-mate, even if Milan defender’s clumsiness prevented Mount from firing a clear shot, but the red card was immediate.
“I don’t believe it was the referee’s best night,” said Stefano Pioli. “I asked if the VAR was working properly.”
Tomori, whose second consecutive shocker against his former club could hurt his chances of making England’s World Cup squad, couldn’t rely on VAR. It was painful for Milan, who has slipped to third place in the group. Their protests were furious and one fan even tried to scare Jorginho off by shining a laser pointer into the midfielder’s eyes for his penalty kick. Does not matter. Jorginho didn’t blink before sending Ciprian Tatarusanu the wrong way.
Milan were glowing. They continued to complain about the referee, who infuriated them with a flurry of bookings, almost using their sense of injustice to equalize. A cross from Brahim Díaz caught Chelsea taking a nap, but Olivier Giroud headed wide from close range.
Chelsea moved. They pushed again and moved Milan around with a long series of passes, Kovacic picked up the pace and found Mount. A smart tap opened Milan and Aubameyang, who pushed Sterling aside, scored his third goal for Chelsea.
The game was dead. With Ben Chilwell driving to the left there was a dynamism in Chelsea. Mount saw a shot pushed away before giving way to Conor Gallagher at halftime. Aubameyang came close, while on the other side there was little going on with Trevoh Chalobah, Kalidou Koulibaly and Thiago Silva, who excelled on his return to the San Siro.
Suffered by injuries, Milan ran out of steam. Potter’s only concern was to see James limp with a knee problem. Chelsea will not want to miss him for long, but otherwise the mood is good.