LONDON -- Chelsea cannot afford to let their season drift like Tuesday's performance against Liverpool did. Following Graham Potter's sacking, the Blues are a club in stasis, temporarily guided by an interim head coach with no experience of leading a side at the highest level.
Bruno Saltor, a member of Potter's backroom staff, had never even picked a team before facing Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. He is the managerial equivalent of a seat filler at the Oscars, there solely to fill an obvious gap and look the part. None of this is Saltor's fault, of course. He felt duty bound to stay on following talks between Potter and the club aimed at "facilitating a smooth transition" as the club described it in their Sunday night statement confirming the change. If the sign of a smooth transition is more of the same, then this 0-0 draw was mission accomplished.
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Chelsea created and wasted the best chances, ending with an xG of 2.12 but failing to win the game. It bore all the hallmarks of previous flawed displays which cost Potter his job. There was a sense even before kickoff that given the circumstances, both teams would have been happy to shake hands and call it a draw. Klopp made six changes from Saturday's 4-1 humbling at Manchester City with Mohamed Salah, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson among those dropped to the bench.
Virgil van Dijk missed out with illness. Both teams were painfully short on confidence and it appeared at one stage Chelsea would seize the initiative, creating a flurry of opportunities early on, before their familiar paralysis in front of goal set in. Saltor was conservative with his substitutions, hinting at a desire to merely avoid rocking the boat further. N'Golo Kante was excellent on his first start for seven months but could only last 69 minutes with Conor Gallagher effectively a pre-planned change.
Despite needing a goal for a win that would keep their slim hopes of a top-four finish alive, Saltor waited until 12 minutes from time to introduce Mykhailo Mudryk and the 85th minute to call on Raheem Sterling. Afterwards, he sounded almost apologetic for being there.
"It's been hard, we are very close friends [with Graham Potter]," said Saltor. "It's difficult to stand here without him but I'm trying my best."
With Liverpool palpably fragile these days, Klopp felt justified in describing a turgid draw as a point gained, a step forward and evidence of renewed hunger ahead of facing leaders Arsenal at Anfield on Sunday.
"First and foremost, each development starts with being difficult to beat and we have to be difficult to beat again," he said. "If we are that, you build confidence and if you build confidence you are much closer to our best self. That will not happen just like this. "A little step but a step for us in the right direction."
For Chelsea, Kante's return was the big plus. The 32-year-old made eight ball recoveries, winning 71.4% of his duels and all three tackles. He will be absolutely pivotal if Chelsea are to have any hope of finding a way past holders Real Madrid in this month's Champions League quarterfinal tie. Kante was man of the match in both legs of their semifinal against the same opposition in 2021 and again in the final as Chelsea beat City to win their second European Cup.
Saltor sidestepped questions over whether he would be in charge for Saturday's trip to Wolves, let alone the first leg against Madrid on April 12. In the meantime, Chelsea's managerial search continues. They do not want to rush the appointment of Potter's successor -- and it remains possible they may even have to wait until the summer to land their preferred target, once that individual is identified.
But in the meantime, this season won't wait for them to make a decision. The final whistle of Saturday's 2-0 home defeat to Aston Villa was greeted with a chorus of boos. This was met with utter indifference. Clarity is required soon.