Chelsea held by Fulham as record spending fails to ignite attacking spark

Chelsea held by Fulham as record spending fails to ignite attacking spark

If the argument from Chelsea is that this is all a long-term investment, this game against Fulham certainly made it feel like it. Over £300m worth of January investment still offered up another 0-0 draw, that tested attention levels more than Financial Fair Play regulations. Enzo Fernandez, who came straight into the starting XI after his British record deadline day signing, admittedly looked tidy. But £106m warrants more than tidy.

That is perhaps the most generous description of Graham Potter’s football right now. It is occasionally nice, and you can see a nascent idea taking shape, but it doesn’t exactly get you off your feet. It barely forces goalkeepers to dive, so few shots on target have Chelsea had. As with his Brighton, it still looks like Potter could do with a striker. That is all the more pointed given Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was on the same day left out of the Champions League squad, left out of the matchday squad, and now looks like his time at Chelsea will instead be very short-term.

There was a starting place for Hakim Ziyech, however, even though he was seconds away from being a Paris Saint-Germain player on Tuesday.

A harsh assessment would be it shows the lack of idea here, or how much input the manager had into signings. A more generous one would be that it was a clever way to keep the player onside, given he is known to have been “disconsolate” with how Tuesday went. It didn’t really show in his display, as he was arguably Chelsea’s most dangerous player, although that is all relative.

This is just a team that doesn’t hurt you right now. Far from any individual raising the level of the side, it was as if the purchases were just absorbed into the passive approach that is Potter’s early system.

Chelsea’s new signings didn’t have as much impact on their football as they did on the headlines. There was no immediate uplift, no explosiveness. That need not be a cause for concern, since many at the club are pointing to how prosaic Arsenal were in Mikel Arteta’s first months introducing a new system. It does nevertheless mean it isn’t exactly exhilarating to watch.

Enzo Fernandez made his debut after becoming the most expensive Premier League player of all time (Getty Images)
Enzo Fernandez made his debut after becoming the most expensive Premier League player of all time (Getty Images)

There is a lot of passive possession, balls and moves that don’t really hurt the opposition. This is of course supposed to be Mykhailo Mudryk’s role, but a first Premier League start evidently demanded much more from him than a cameo against James Milner. You can see the talent is there but also the inexperience. His only contribution was two misplaced passes.

It was actually quite telling that Chelsea’s two most dangerous moments of the first half – if one can even be called that – involved players overlooked or now set to be replaced. For the first, Conor Gallagher surged through to put the ball through to Marc Cucurella. The attack went nowhere.

For the second, there was admittedly one of the finest technical moments of the game, but from a player who has only ended up staying here due to “unforeseen technical issues”. Ziyech, who might well have been in Paris, instead picked out Kai Havertz with a beautifully arching ball that at last opened Marco Silva’s well-drilled defence. The German however offered the finish of a player who occasionally scores rather than a striker. When it looked like he should have just drilled it, Havertz instead delayed and attempted to lift it over compatriot Bernd Leno. The ball bounced off the post, so tantalising but still so harmless.

Havertz hit the post shortly before half time (Getty Images)
Havertz hit the post shortly before half time (Getty Images)

Mudryk was hauled off at half-time for another new signing in Noni Madueke, and he did look more lively, immediately offering a run that went right through Fulham. He might have had a goal, too, only for the excellent Kenny Tete to divert the ball just off Madueke’s head after a brilliant cross by Reece James. It showed how important the wing-back remains for Chelsea but his recent fitness meant he couldn’t remain on the pitch for 90 minutes. Potter had to rest him for Cesar Azpilicueta.

The game never actually became that demanding, though. Fulham offered another creditable display against Chelsea, to claim four points off them this season.

Their fans of course celebrated with a predictable chant. “What a waste of money.”

It’s far too early to actually conclude that, but getting to the point you can say it may involve a lot of long hours if this is going to be the football.

Potter’s football needs some fantasy, some life. You’d think that’s what over £600m would get you. Chelsea instead remain mid-table and look like it. Fulham, on such a smaller budget but in sixth, are now looking down on that pile of money.