Before becoming a Sports Journalist for Free Super Tips, Aaron spent three years studying Sports Journalism at the University of Sunderland while taking in the Black Cats' 'glory years' under Martin O'Neill. Now back in Northern Ireland he turns niche stats into predictions for FST, while he's one of the few people on this island who is equally comfortable at Windsor Park and the Aviva.
Graham Potter’s departure from Chelsea felt a long-time coming, despite the fact that he only arrived at Stamford Bridge in the Autumn. He paid the price for a woeful run of form, but the decision to boot him has left the Blues in an awkward spot going into this clash with Liverpool.
However, the Reds have issues of their own, which offers Bruno the opportunity to get off to a winning start. We’ve already taken a look at the potential successors at the Bridge after a brutal week of sackings, but here we’re looking more in-depth at what to expect from the first game of the Blues’ new era.
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How will Bruno’s Blues line-up?
While Bruno was part of Potter’s backroom staff, we can still expect to see a change in style from the interim boss. The Spaniard was a cult hero at Brighton and Potter inherited him as part of his coaching team, so it’s not fair to treat him as an extension of the outgoing boss.
Bruno started his career in Spain as a midfielder, having grown up in Barcelona. Given that he was entering his teens as Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona reached their peak, it shouldn’t be much of a leap to assume he will prioritise possession.
Bruno was signed by Gus Poyet at Brighton as he moved the team towards a Spanish style, while he ironically identified most with Unai Emery – the man responsible for Potter’s final defeat.
In an interview after becoming a coach at Brighton, Bruno outlined his possession-based ideals. He highlighted Man City as a side that defend primarily by keeping the ball.
Bruno went on to push the idea of being patient in getting the ball up the pitch, which should see a Spanish-style influence on the midfield. A formation switch sounds likely, while one man who could benefit is Enzo Fernandez.
Enzo has already played a key role already, averaging 83.3 passes per 90 minutes. However, by moving to a defensive four and adding numbers in midfield, expect quicker, more frequent passes and that should drive up Enzo’s numbers. This move could be huge for the club’s record signing, so back him to make at least 90 passes in the clash with a Liverpool midfield which hasn’t been up to scratch this term.
Can Bruno fix defensive issues?
While Bruno will likely look to revamp the midfield to improve Chelsea’s ailing displays, a bit problem of late has been their issues in defence. The opening goal by Ollie Watkins at the weekend was comical, but it was clearly coming if you took note of the space between their odd back-three.
While switching from three centre-halves to two when you’re defensively struggling might seem counterintuitive, it can work provided you tweak the space you’re asking the team to defend. It can also be addressed by playing natural central defenders in their proper positions, something Potter bizarrely wouldn’t do towards the end.
Benoit Badiashile is comfortably the most impressive of the latest wave of Chelsea signings. The central defender has taken to the team with ease, but he was benched against Aston Villa despite some good performances.
The Frenchman returning to the side for this one looks like a no-brainer, especially given his physical presence. That can get him in trouble, having committed two fouls in two of his last three starts, so he’s likely to give away free kicks in a return to the side.
While Bruno can improve the team selection, his previous comments about defending high and leaving the risk of space could be a problem. The Liverpool frontline caught out similar issues with the City defence for the opening goal at the weekend and Mo Salah should exploit the Blues’ defensive issues here.
Creating the right chances
While there are plenty of similarities between the way Bruno and Potter see the game, the main thing the interim boss needs to do is get their attack firing.
The Blues are creating chances, having racked up some impressive Expected Goals numbers during the last few months. They had 27 shots on goal against Villa, but at a certain point the lack of goals goes beyond being unlucky.
The Blues aren’t creating good chances and they aren’t setting up players in their favoured areas. Despite lacking a penalty box finisher, they tended to tee up attackers in cramped positions close to goal.
The new boss can’t fix the lack of a centre-forward overnight – the Aubameyang situation looks past the point of no return – so he needs to improve the quality of the chances.
Joao Felix is the closest thing Chelsea have to a centre-forward right now, so he’s likely to be the man they rely on from here to the end of the season. The Portuguese averages a shot on target per first-half since arriving at Chelsea and with the need to start strong and make better chances, Felix to have a shot on target before half-time looks like good value.
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