The scene is the City Ground, where Chelsea have traveled to start 2023.
And just days earlier they appeared to put their pre-World Cup slump behind them with a 2-0 home win over Bournemouth, albeit marred by a serious knee injury to star defender Reece James.
Having had his World Cup break to inculcate some of his methods, there were just a few more days for Graham Potter to work with his players before they traveled to then second-placed Nottingham Forest and Steve Cooper’s team plan was hatched.
However, it didn’t take long after referee Peter Banks’ first whistle for those who know the ins and outs of their game plan to notice that things weren’t quite what they should have been.
Down from the stands, a member of the Chelsea support room staff went to double check with Potter if any part of the tactical setup they had been working on all week had changed.
Graham Potter was sacked as Chelsea manager on Sunday night after a poor spell
Chelsea co-owner Todd Boyley’s patience finally snapped after losing 2-0 to Aston Villa
There have been concerns that the stars are not following instructions and are instead doing their own thing
has not been. Instead, Potter and his coaches concluded that this team did not do what they were told, but rather what they wanted.
It was one such occasion that highlighted his struggle for persuasion.
But it wasn’t the only time Chelsea seemed unrecognizable — or less, for that matter — to Potter and other observers.
Known for his coaching abilities, Potter’s previous teams had an identity.
A few flashes of promise aside, a similar was rarely seen at Chelsea – something rival managers spotted even if it didn’t actually make their jobs easier to try to predict what was going to happen.
Potter’s failure to stamp any sense of style or provide enough evidence that he could lead the team in the right direction contributed to his downfall.
Chelsea’s injury problems were crippling and a big reason why there was an understanding from above for so long about the hardships Potter endured.
But on so many other occasions during his reign, eyebrows were raised about team selection and other decisions that led to a dent in faith in Potter that ended with his dismissal Sunday night.
Interestingly, there were also questions about who was behind some of them as well, whether he was a strong enough figure to take complete command and whether that was also a factor in his difficulties.
Many players have questioned whether the team has improved despite spending nearly £600m on signings this season, including stars such as Enzo Fernandes (left) and Mikhailo Modric (right).
Several decisions led to a waning of faith in Potter that ended in his dismissal
Indeed, some of the Chelsea staff were said to have had an element of sympathy for Potter, leaving the impression that he was not quite free to run the team as he liked, and at times some objects were snatched from his hands and he was pulled in multiple directions.
He may have been known for his tactical flexibility, but the number of changes Potter made to his starting XI at Chelsea during his short reign was high by anyone’s standards and not a number that helps shape any consistency.
Many players saw their stature, participation, and fortunes fluctuate wildly, adding to the confusion.
But as the main figure in what Chelsea’s owners hoped would be a long-term project, the main focus was on ceramics.
Two record-breaking transfer spells left him with a squad of over 30 players to contend with, but one player already doubted he was much better despite being bolstered with a £600m talent.
It’s set against the background of many other reformed departments of the club, including those directly affecting Potter and his first team.
The restructuring of the medical department, which saw the departure of some famous long-serving and welcoming faces to the Blues’ stars, was said to be so drastic that at one point a Chelsea star was even taken out while rehabilitating by someone. The staff had never seen him.
The team’s turnaround was also one after January that contained many players worried about their future and whereabouts, adding to the uncertainty and instability which in turn affected results.
It was said that many players viewed Potter as weak and thus took advantage of his personality
Potter’s job was to try to make sense of everything and cause a huge headache even if he didn’t do it diplomatically.
It seriously affected his training sessions, some of which were carried out under the added scrutiny of having the controlling owners, Todd Bohle and Bagdad Eghbali, watching at Chelsea’s Cobham Stadium.
Some players may not have been part of his plans, but it wasn’t in Potter’s nature to freeze them out, instead he did his best to keep everyone happy and engaged. It was an almost impossible task.
Two days after his proposed move to Paris Saint-Germain fell through, Potter was left to pick up the pieces and try to appease a furious Hakim Ziyech by directing him against Fulham as part of his reintegration.
After sacking Thomas Tuchel, the confrontational manager, Chelsea’s owners turned to Potter as a manager who would fit better with the collaborative approach they wanted at the club’s top.
As his reign developed, sources close to the Chelsea dressing room pondered whether this part of Potter’s make-up was exploited.
Doubts about his qualifications for a job at a club of Chelsea’s scale were inevitable and felt from the start by many unconvinced fans.
The England player has also been left with a bloated squad of more than 30 senior first-team players
Some of the training sessions were conducted under the additional supervision of co-controlling owners Todd Bohle (right) and Baghdad Eghbali at Cobham Training Ground.
It was toned down a bit at first among players. Some strongly rejected the idea that there was too much ego in the dressing room for Potter to handle.
Meanwhile, they welcomed his positivity, he made an impression tactically and as a coach and, despite his low profile, gave a sense to some that he had something about him.
But as time went on, some Chelsea players felt that circumstances called for a stronger personality and for him to be much stronger, even with them.
Sources close to the Chelsea team questioned whether Potter had the personal power to persuade players to do things they did not want Tuchel to like.
There was expectation and it was understandable at times if Potter did things to try to ruffle some feathers or hang some players on the dressing room wall when things didn’t go to plan.
That left no one in any doubt as to who the boss was.
But that combustible approach isn’t Potter’s style, which was part of the reason Chelsea hired him.
That he could achieve more, as he had earlier in his career, was further evidence.
However, he was nowhere close to doing it at Chelsea, and despite the many mitigating factors that dampened his hopes of seizing some control of this giant club, the magnitude of which was an eye-opener for some of the new staff, the lack of progression under him was . considered unsustainable.
Potter tried to keep everyone happy and engaged, including Ziyech after his failed move to Paris Saint-Germain
The lack of progress he made during his tenure was ultimately deemed unsustainable
The Chelsea hierarchy aimed to weather the storm and tried harder than many others had to to keep the faith. Definitely former owner Roman Abramovich.
Not all that long ago, even as they continue to struggle for results, they are still hopeful that they can give Potter this season and the next, if not all, to show signs of progress.
This intention was reported from the top although indecision and doubts soon began to creep in, as Sportsmail reported ahead of Chelsea’s crucial meeting with Leeds a month ago.
It was the three much-needed successive wins that gave Potter time, including a victory against Borussia Dortmund that secured Chelsea’s place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
But it turned out to be a false dawn, and eventually the Chelsea board were forced to abandon their plan after Saturday’s defeat by Aston Villa.
In addition to the attendant headaches, Potter was given resources that many of his managerial peers could only dream of.
And his inability to turn that into any sense of a coherent plan was agonizing alongside the results – just 12 wins and 11 defeats in 31 matches.
And while he has now left Stamford Bridge, there will be a sense of what might have been if many different decisions had been made instead.