Joe Cole believes that Chelsea is still a contender to win the Champions League despite their struggle for form domestically. The Blues have recorded just one win in 2023 so far, though are unbeaten in their last four matches.
Former Chelsea and Liverpool star Cole believes that the Blues have the quality to win one-off fixtures and that could launch a platform for Graham Potter and co to truly establish themselves as a team going forwards. The 41-year-old believes European football can offer some respite with the west London side unbeaten in the competition since their new head coach arrived.
Nevertheless, he does not think his former side will have an easy time against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday evening. It is easy to be drawn by the battle that is set to ensue between Premier League record signing Enzo Fernandez and long-time Chelsea target Jude Bellingham, who is set to draw interest from Europe’s biggest club in the summer.
Cole told press hub “I think Chelsea is one of 10 or 11 teams that can win it. Cup football, you have to do it at night. Chelsea has players who can do it on the night against anyone. It’s also a welcome distraction, the league form hasn’t been as good as Chelsea would have hoped. The Champions League becomes like a respite because nobody is expecting Chelsea to win it. It’s not a free hit but gets you out of the shackles a little bit and that can springboard to the league form.”
He added: “I think it’s a great game. I think the crucial part of the game, people have talked about Bellingham and Fernandez in midfield, is how Chelsea plays out through the back, whether they go four or a three, and through Dortmund’s press. That’s crucial. I think Dortmund set traps for you, the trap you down one side. I think Chelsea has to play through the lines and have to get players on the ball in comfortable positions in the final third. That’s where the game lies. Particularly early on is a danger for Chelsea.”
Unfortunately one of Chelsea’s struggles has been finding their forward players to find good chances, an issue that plagued Thomas Tuchel’s tenure before Potter arrived at Stamford Bridge. The Blues have recorded just 23 goals in their 22 Premier League matches but put the ball in the net 10 times over their six European matches.
New signings have already hinted at their ability to help on that front with Enzo Fernandez finding Joao Felix against West Ham with a quality pass that matched the finish. Cole recognized that this may be a slower process unless Potter is exceptionally fortunate, however.
He said: “There’s a lot of change that has happened at the club on the pitch and off the pitch. They’re going to need time to find these patterns of play. In a perfect world you throw 11 players on the pitch, 20-odd players together and it hits straight away. Sometimes it does. Logic tells you a lot of the time they need time. That’s what Graham Potter has to do, he’s got to work diligently every day with his team to get the best out of them. To find the patterns of play, to find the confidence in the team, to rebuild the lads and a big night at Dortmund can spark that.”
Chelsea has no shortage of new options, and the competition for places has already seen Noni Madueke, Benoit Badiashile, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and David Datro Fofana miss out on Chelsea’s Champions League squad. While there may be an argument the sheer volume of players Chelsea have could slow down connections forming, Cole believes rotation is now ingrained into the world’s top teams. Anyone expecting to start every match will be disappointed.
The ex-England international said: “Time will tell which ones will be successful and it will be down to the individual characters of players to what they do. That’s the life of any player at a big club. That’s competition there’s a world-class player snapping at your heels every day. The lads, I’m sure they’re well-advised and they know that going into it. I think the days are gone when players can go to managers ‘I want to play every game’ – I think very rarely in world football, particularly in the forward positions, particularly in the last 20 years. Teams rotate. We see Kevin de Bruyne being left out by Pep Guardiola in a huge game. Players understand that now. They understand it’s a squad game so I don’t think it will be a problem.”
There certainly could be benefits. Mason Mount has made more than 50 appearances in three consecutive seasons for Chelsea and already added 29 this term, not to mention having featured in a World Cup and European Championships. Having won two players of the season awards, there has been little time for rest for the midfielder.
The 24-year-old has endured a difficult season thus far and had to settle for a place on the bench in Chelsea’s draw with West Ham. While Cole expects rotation in the forward positions, it does not appear that he believes that will diminish Mount’s influence moving forward.
He said: “It’s been well documented what I think of Mason Mount, I think he’s a fantastic footballer and he’s so important for the club on and off the pitch. He’s developed into a leader in my eyes when he plays. I think the beauty of Mason Mount, his performances don’t dip below a seven. I think he does the basics really well, he’s very clever. He’s played a lot of football but I have no problem with Mason Mount, I think he’s going to play a massive part for Chelsea at this end of the season. His experience of winning this trophy, he was brilliant in the final versus Man City, he will be raring to go.”
When Cole joined Chelsea in 2003 in the aftermath of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea takeover, he was their sixth signing of the summer. Success was expected and when the Blues didn’t meet the standards that were intended, Jose Mourinho quickly arrived.
While Chelsea has lavishly spent since the arrival of Todd Boehly and co, Cole believes there is a different approach underway and that the success of Potter and the transfers completed cannot be judged as quickly. That said, he believes the group can show its merits before the end of the season to turn things around.
He added: “I think Chelsea’s recruitment strategy, you’ve got to let it simmer. You’ve got to wait for two or three years and see how these players go. Yes, there are a lot of players coming through the door in a short space of time for a lot of money but we don’t know the ins and the outs of the contracts, the dealings, and how the payments are structured. What we do know is they’re all fantastic footballers that are sought after by everyone in world football. Now, for the next five months until the window reopens with this group of players, can they do it every three or four days, can they produce, can they win games? I believe they can.”