Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is not part of Chelsea’s future. The club soon developed buyer’s remorse after signing the striker last summer. The big reunion with Thomas Tuchel lasted less than a week and, although Graham Potter continues to insist there is nothing wrong with Aubameyang’s attitude, it seems unlikely the former Arsenal captain will still be a Chelsea player next season.
The writing is on the wall. Aubameyang was said to be shocked when Potter failed to find a place for him in Chelsea’s revamped Champions League knockout squad. Space had to be made to fit three of Chelsea’s new signings, but leaving Aubameyang was a big call. Other options were available. Carney Chukwuemeka probably wouldn’t have made a fuss if he went down. Christian Pulisic is a long-term absentee. Hakim Ziyech attempted to join Paris Saint-Germain on deadline day.
However, Aubameyang was the unlucky one. Potter gambled and it was hard not to question his logic when Chelsea lost the first leg of their last 16 tie at Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday. It was the same old story at Signal Iduna Park: plenty of sparkling football, plenty of missed chances, plenty of frustration to throw another game away.
Dortmund, who will take a 1-0 lead at Stamford Bridge next month, were beaten. Jude Bellingham is one of the best midfielders in the world and Karim Adeyemi scored a great away goal. However, Chelsea were the better team for long periods and should have gone ahead when Adeyemi opened the scoring.
Admittedly, the missed opportunities are not Potter’s fault. João Félix can’t be blamed for picking up a close-range effort and smashing another onto the post during the first half. Chelsea’s forwards need to take more responsibility. Ziyech was wasteful during the second half, twice shooting very close to Gregor Kobel, who also made good saves from Enzo Fernández and Kalidou Koulibaly.
But it’s fair to wonder why Potter didn’t have Aubameyang as an option off the bench when Chelsea were chasing an equaliser. With Pulisic and Raheem Sterling injured, Potter had few changes in attack. Marc Cucurella and Mason Mount came on when Dortmund scored.
Potter had not even managed to sign David Datro Fofana after signing the 20-year-old from Molde last month and Armando Brocha was injured. Aubameyang is not at the back of a long queue. Blocking it feels self-defeating. There is a process under Potter, but Chelsea’s weaknesses in front of goal are nothing new. They have scored six times in their last 10 games. Kai Havertz has six goals this season. The German makes Chelsea more flexible when he plays but is not ruthless.
Potter will stick with Havertz. Chelsea don’t necessarily need a traditional No 9. Potter can say that creativity is not a problem. With Félix, Ziyech and Mykhailo Mudryk behind Havertz, Chelsea were dangerous against Dortmund. They finished with an xG of 2.14.
There are positive signs for Potter. Chelsea have dazzled at times. It is doubtful that they would be as unpredictable with Aubameyang up front instead of Havertz.
Aubameyang, who fell out with Mikel Arteta before leaving Arsenal, has scored just three goals since joining from Barcelona on a two-year deal. There has been no suggestion of a clash with Potter but the 33-year-old’s face does not match. Aubameyang, who has not started since being substituted in the defeat to Arsenal on November 6, is not pressing. He’s not going to make unselfish runs off the ball. At times he hasn’t even been in scoring positions.
However, Aubameyang, whose game is to come alive in the box, would be right to point out that Chelsea did not create chances for him before falling out of favour. Wouldn’t it be worth seeing if he can click with Félix, Mudryk and Fernández? Aubameyang is the best finisher at the club and Chelsea have enough players to supply him. If they are chasing a goal, they have no one more capable than Aubameyang to step in and take a chance.
They could have done with him when the ball bounced around the box during the dying stages against Dortmund. More specifically, it’s ridiculous that Aubameyang hasn’t even been on the bench for Chelsea’s last two league games. Potter’s explanation is that he wants to look at Fofana, who almost scored after coming on during the goalless draw with Fulham, but the Ivorian is inexperienced and did not feature in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with West Hum.
Potter must be realistic. There is still no indication that Aubameyang wants to fly to LAFC anytime soon. If he plans to stick around until the end of the season, then Potter needs to use him in the league.
The Champions League talk is gone. Chelsea will feel they have enough to take on Dortmund, even if the nightmare scenario is to miss countless chances in the second leg and wonder if they should have opted for Aubameyang.
But Dortmund is not the only thought. Chelsea are 10 points behind fourth-placed Newcastle and will not be playing in Europe next season if they continue to draw in their league games. There would be no excuse not to have Aubameyang in the squad when Southampton visit Stamford Bridge on Saturday.