Wesley Fofana earned Chelsea a crucial 1-0 victory over Leeds to ease the pressure on under-fire head coach Graham Potter.
Chelsea were winless in their previous six matches and way off the top-four pace after a humiliating 2-0 defeat at rivals Tottenham last Sunday – but deservedly stopped the rot at Stamford Bridge.
Kai Havertz was denied by a superb Ilian Meslier save and Joao Felix struck the crossbar in the first half before Fofana netted with a towering header shortly into the second period to score the club’s first goal since February 14.
Leeds struggled to cause Chelsea any major problems in defence with Potter’s big test still to come on Tuesday as they aim to overturn a one-goal deficit in their Champions League last-16 tie at home to Dortmund.
Chelsea: Kepa (7), Badiashile (7), Fernandez (7), Kovacic (7), Felix (7), Loftus-Cheek (7), Sterling (7), Chilwell (7), Koulibaly (7), Havertz (7), Fofana (8).
Subs: Gallagher (6), Zakaria (6), Chukwuemeka (6), Madueke (n/a), Chalobah (n/a)
Leeds: Meslier (7), Ayling (6), Firpo (6), Koch (6), Aaronson (6), Summerville (7), Harrison (6), Adams (6), Rutter (6), McKennie (6), Wober (6).
Subs: Fernandez (6), Gnonto (6), Greenwood (n/a)
Player of the Match: Wesley Fofana
How Chelsea edged past Leeds
Chelsea dominated from the start in a 3-4-3 formation, looking determined to put their torrid run behind them. Havertz should have put them ahead in the 15th minute when he was played in behind by Raheem Sterling, but Meslier produced a superb save to keep out the striker’s dinked effort.
- Graham Potter was forced into replacing the injured Reece James and Thiago Silva for Benoit Badiashile and Wesley Fofana. Mateo Kovacic returned from illness to replace Hakim Ziyech.
- Leeds’ club-record signing Georginio Rutter made his first Premier League start. Brenden Aaronson, Jack Harrison and Max Wober came into the starting XI in place of Rasmus Kristensen, Marc Roca and Wilfried Gnonto.
Just seven minutes later, Leeds had the goalframe to thank as Sterling again created a good chance, this time pulling the ball back for Felix to slam an effort from the edge of the box against the crossbar.
Ben Chilwell caused problems in behind Luke Ayling throughout the first half, volleying wide from a lovely Havertz pass when instead he had time to control and then pick his spot.
Finally Chelsea ended their goal drought at the beginning of the second period. Chilwell’s out-swinging corner was met by Fofana and planted past Meslier.
Leeds responded well to the setback seeing Georginio Rutter’s shot deflected which made it easy for Kepa Arrizabalaga to gather. The visitors had plenty more territory after the hour mark, particularly once Potter had subbed wingers Sterling and Felix to strengthen midfield.
Chelsea survived some nervy moments late on with Leeds goalkeeper Meslier heading a last-gasp chance straight at a grateful Kepa.
Potter: An important three points
Chelsea head coach Graham Potter: “We’re delighted with the win. We’ve had a tough period. I’m delighted for the players and supporters, who have had to suffer. It was pleasing to get the win.
“We started the game well and created some opportunities. Playing against Leeds is always tough, they’ve got a high intensity. We got the goal which was a pleasing moment for us all and then we’ve got something to lose in the second half which is where you’d expect us to be given the run we’ve had.
“It’s really good for the players to keep a clean sheet, win a game and have that feeling. It’s nice.
“It’s an important three points, it’s good for confidence and morale. The boys have been suffering because they care. Our supporters have been suffering as well. It’s been a tough period for us, it really has. The win gives us a chance to recover and to prepare for a massive game on Tuesday night.
“I firmly believe in the players and the team but I also acknowledge that the results haven’t been good enough and that’s my responsibility. Any criticism is absolutely fair and warranted, we have to take it and try to improve and win. That’s the job.”
Gracia: We need to improve finishing
Leeds boss Javi Gracia: “I’m frustrated, disappointed with the result but on the other hand after watching the attitude of my players, I can only say I’m proud of them.
“We need to improve many things but if we analyse the game, in the first 30 minutes the opponent was better, they dominated the game and possession, they created two clear chances but after that moment we grew up with the ball and created some chances.
“The second half was similar, they had their moments and the goal came from a corner. We tried until the end, the team showed character and good attitude. The corner kick was the difference.
“We tried to be aggressive from the beginning, we didn’t know if Chelsea would play with three or four at the back. We tried to adjust during the game and did it well.
“The big problem is not creating chances. We need to improve the effectiveness to finish better, to be more clinical. The opponent had two or three clear chances but they scored one and we weren’t able to.
“During the week in the FA Cup, we created 16 shots and had more clear chances, and didn’t concede the chances we conceded today. It’s something we have to improve.
“The goals are not only about the strikers, all the team has to collaborate in scoring.”
FPL stats: Chelsea vs Leeds
|Bonus points||Fofana (3pts) | Koulibaly (2pts) | Chilwell (1pt)|
Opta stats: Fofana becomes latest Chelsea goalscorer
- Chelsea picked up their second win in 12 games in 2023 in all competitions (D4 L6), and first in seven matches (D3 L3) since beating Crystal Palace 1-0 in January.
- Leeds have just six points away from home in the Premier League this season, the joint-fewest of any side, and their lowest after their first 13 away games of a league campaign since 1992-93 (3).
- Wesley Fofana was Chelsea’s 13th different Premier League goalscorer this season, with only Arsenal (14) having more in the competition this term (excluding own goals).
- Chelsea boss Graham Potter has won four of his six Premier League games against Leeds as a manager (D2), his most wins against an opposing club in the competition.
Chelsea host Borussia Dortmund in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday at 8pm. The Blues lost the first leg 1-0 in Germany.
Graham Potter’s side then return to Premier League action with a trip to Leicester next Saturday at 3pm.
Up next for Leeds is a Premier League home game against Brighton next Saturday at 3pm before a trip to Wolves on March 18, also at 3pm.