Chelsea overcome Milan in Champions League to ignite Graham Potter era – The Guardian

Chelsea’s Champions League campaign has its starting point and so is the administration of Graham Potter. It’s strange to think that this was only his third game in charge of the club after his appointment on 8 September, the first being the 1-1 draw here against Red Bull Salzburg.

It was a strange mix of emotions after the loss at Dinamo Zagreb and the sacking of Thomas Tuchel. But with Chelsea desperately needing a win in the competition everything came together, the blue shirts pouring forward from all corners; Milan chased from west London, lucky to escape a serious beating.

It was still punitive. There is a particular kind of event glamor when it comes to Milan – the cool shirts; the sight of Paolo Maldini, the technical director, walking the touchline before kick-off. Clarence Seedorf, the former Milan midfielder, was here as a media expert – along with the Chelsea icon, Gianfranco Zola, in front of the press box.

But apart from the electricity generated whenever Rafael Leão got the ball and started running, Milan offered nothing and it must have been annoying to see the champions of Italy defend so generously. The die was cast when Wesley Fofana opened the scoring midway through the first half following a poorly defended corner and, later, Chelsea threatened to run riot.

Potter had to feel his way into the role on the training ground and he could be delighted with how his players mapped Cobham’s moves onto the big stage. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added the second and it was a night when almost everyone impressed. Thiago Silva was perfect in defense while Mateo Kovacic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek manned the midfield. But, as so often, it was Reece James who was the dominant figure.

The right wing defender drove the team, a threat to Milan with his surges and deliveries. It was his cross that set Aubameyang up and it was fitting that he set the seal on one of Chelsea’s best wins for some time with the third goal, struck high at the near post after a Raheem Sterling pass. It was Jacob, whom the television cameras followed full time, whom the home crowd greeted in song.

Chelsea's Wesley Fofana is sitting on the pitch after an injury against Milan
Wesley Fofana goes down with the injury that would force his first-half substitution. Photo: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Chelsea flickered at the start against a Milan defense that was missing the number 1 goalkeeper, Mike Maignan, and three of the regular back four – Davide Calabria, Simon Kjær and Theo Hernández.

Mason mountain stretched Ciprian Tatarusanu but it was after a flurry of set pieces midway through the first half that Chelsea took control – four of them to be precise, each bringing a free header and lines of concern for Stefano Pioli, the Milan manager. How did this happen?

From the fourth, a Ben Chilwell corner, Silva – as he had done twice before – unloaded his header, which was pushed out by Tatarusanu and from there, it was mayhem. Aubameyang made his way around, so did Loftus-Cheek and, when the ball broke, it did so kindly for Fofana, who rolled it home.

Chelsea were well balanced in Potter’s 3-4-2-1 system; Sterling and Mountain finding spaces as the No 10s, James and Chilwell offering width and thrust. They may have been invisible from the range.

Monte saw a shot blocked after James combined with Sterling to pull back, and Monte also had the ball in the net after a fine finish but strayed offside. Sterling also came close on a fast break.

Milan’s threat came exclusively through Leão, their fast-rising star – an unusual mix of explosiveness and strength. His first involvement was to break away from laying blue shirts and he made it clear that he intends to do it again and again. Chelsea needed Silva to stretch into a great sliding challenge on him in the 19th minute after Fofana was caught on the ball.

What a run Leão produced in first-half stoppage time, taking him past four Chelsea players, the alarm bells were ringing loudly. Charles De Ketelaere urged goalwards and, when Kepa Arrizabalaga – who kept his place before the fit again Édouard Mendy – tapped the ball out, Rade Krunic had to score. From point-blank range, his shot went high. It was a huge let down for Chelsea.

There was a needle, some bad challenges, with those of Krunic and Fodé Ballo-Touré in the first half fully deserving of their yellow cards. But there didn’t seem to be much in the tussle between Fofana and Leão, which saw the former sent off on 38 minutes. The frustration for the goal scorer was intense.

Chelsea deserved a second goal to allow themselves to breathe easier and it came on 56 minutes when James crossed and Aubameyang gave Fikayo Tomori the slip all too easily. Tomori was left to do a desperate flea; it was a horror moment for Chelsea’s youth product. That was it according to the result. But after Sterling jumped high, James brought the flourish.

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