Chelsea FC news: Frustrated stars must use busy fixture list to their advantage

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raham Potter’s message to his Chelsea squad upon their return from international duty was simple: keep the faith and take your opportunities.

A run of 13 games in 42 days ahead of the World Cup is daunting, but Potter will know it will likely prove a blessing in disguise for a manager aiming to unite a squad littered with players frustrated over a lack of minutes.

Hakim Ziyech had been hoping for a move to AC Milan this summer, and could now face them for Chelsea in Wednesday’s must-win Champions League game.

Milan had been sounding out a loan move with an option to buy for Ziyech, after Romelu Lukaku secured a similar move to rivals Inter, but walked away after signing Belgian wonderkid Charles De Ketelaere.

Christian Pulisic has made eight of his nine appearances this season from the bench and is clearly unhappy with his status in west London. Juventus have explored a possible move for him. With less than two years on his current deal and Chelsea in talks to sign RB Leipzig winger Christopher Nkunku, it is a make-or-break season for the USA international captain.

Similarly, Armando Broja has been used as an impact player under both managers and could have left this summer for West Ham, only to be convinced to sign a new six-year deal.

Several Italian giants, including Inter, Roma and Milan, also looked at signing Trevoh Chalobah on loan during the window. Approaches were rejected by Chelsea, and Chalobah has played just once this season under both Potter and Tuchel. For him, a January loan move will be essential if he can’t reverse this trend.

Conor Gallagher was in a similar place with a loan move mulled over late into the transfer window, but his match-winning goal against his former club Crystal Palace reminded those who needed it of his talents.

For Potter, the 21-year-old midfielder will be held up as an example to his fellow teammates desperate for minutes ahead of the World Cup and January transfer window. He was patient and made the most of an opportunity.

Graham Potter welcomes extra pressure after Chelsea leave it late at Palace

“We’ve got a really intense period. We need everybody; it’s impossible to play with 11 players,” Potter said. “So Conor will get his time, will get his chances, his opportunities to perform. We have to try and help the team perform in a good way so all individuals can play well in it.”

Ruben Loftus-Cheek himself made a big impact from the bench on Saturday and is keen to also heed his manager’s message.

“Look at the number of quality players here and if you don’t start you got to be ready to come on and make an impact,” Loftus-Cheek said. “That’s just how it is for us, and for any club. Any player that wants to start, it’s paramount that you put in a good performance and [Gallagher] did that.

“[Potter] is saying there are so many games, that we need everyone to be at their best to be fit and ready to go. There’ll be injuries, and so many games so everyone will get their chance to play. So we’ve all got to be ready.”

For both Loftus-Cheek and Gallagher, this is a huge season as they bid to oust both N’Golo Kante and Jorginho in the final year of their older teammates’ contracts.

Juventus loan signing Denis Zakaria and £20million academy arrival Carney Chukwuemeka have both impressed in behind-closed-doors friendlies in recent weeks to stake claims of their own.

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Even players previously considered stalwarts have needed to impress, and done just that. Ben Chilwell came in for a sick Marc Cucurella at the weekend after a disappointing start to the season with his England place in the balance. In early September, in Thomas Tuchel’s final league game, he came on against West Ham with less than 20 minutes to play and scored one goal and assisted another.

Similarly, Kepa Arrizabalaga has taken Edouard Mendy’s spot after injury and is fighting to keep it. He will be given another chance to impress against Milan in midweek.

Internal competition and the sheer number of fixtures will see Potter rotate his squad this month. However, it’s a juggling act the manager has never faced before, both in terms of the number of players, the volume of fixtures and the level of talent he has at his disposal.

Potter must be careful not to overdo the tinkering as he looks to create cohesion in the squad and implement his own style of play. Match postponements and the international break means he has not had as many training sessions with his full squad as originally planned, and that was evident at the weekend despite beating Crystal Palace 2-1 away at Selhurst Park.

So it’s all hands to the pump, for Potter, his staff and his squad. His players know they will get their chance – the manager has said as much – so now it’s down to all parties to remain focused on Chelsea and not pastures new for the next six weeks.

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