Koulibaly limited as Chelsea’s aging defense exploited

Chelsea started 2023 with a disappointing 1-1 draw against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground on Sunday.

Raheem Sterling opened the scoring in the 16th minute, after a ball contested by Willy Boly and Kai Havertz came back off the woodwork and fell to the feet of the England international to tap in, although the Blues were unable to build on that momentum. Serge Aurier equalized shortly after the hour mark, and the visitors were forced to settle for a point, which leaves them eighth in the Premier League table.

Positives

Chelsea built up some lovely passages of play from the very beginning, even if they didn’t always lead to goal-scoring opportunities. Sterling’s goal came from the Blues’ first big chance of the game, displaying a welcome clinical edge.

Negatives

Despite the visitors’ positive play in the early stages, it was Forest attacker Brennan Johnson who created the first notable opportunity. There were periods when it was far too easy for the hosts to break forward and get behind Chelsea’s defense, with the second half being especially concerning as Forest eventually got level.

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Manager rating out of 10

Graham Potter, 6 — The manager stuck with the players who had impressed against Bournemouth, and initially saw a positive display from his team, but he didn’t do much to change the game as it slipped away from Chelsea with an underwhelming second half. His triple change shifted the momentum again, but it wasn’t enough to earn a winner.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 7 — Stood up well to save Johnson’s shot after the Wales international had broken through. Made a fairly comfortable save to deny Taiwo Awoniyi, then denied Johnson again moments later. Was given no chance when he was eventually beaten.

DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 5 — Put in a great block to deny Morgan Gibbs-White and had a shot of his own from range deflected wide. Struggled in the second half as he could not keep up with Johnson when he ran behind, then got booked for a foul on Renan Lodi. Couldn’t get close enough to Aurier to deny the equalizer.

DF Kalidou Koulibaly, 4 — Moved the ball impressively in the first half, setting up chances for Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic. However, he really struggled to deal with Awoniyi, especially when he was forced into wider areas.

DF Thiago Silva, 7 — Showed his experience by expertly cutting out Awoniyi’s cross and stopping Gibbs-White’s forward burst. Also played some ambitious passes to make life awkward for Forest’s defenders.

DF Marc Cucurella, 6 — Did well to keep Johnson from navigating into the channels in a fairly solid defensive display, and was also involved in some nice link-up play with Pulisic.

MF Denis Zakaria, 6 — Had his patience tested by Ryan Yates but continued to put in an impressive first-half display in the middle of the pitch, especially when holding off the opposition. However, he could not have the same impact after the break.

MF Jorginho, 6 — Played some nice passes, including one to Sterling in the build-up to a chance for Mount, but there were times where he was too easily taken out of the game.

MF Mason Mount, 7 — The former Derby County loanee wasn’t afraid to get involved in the combative side of the game, although he also showed quality with a perfectly weighted pass to Pulisic in the build-up to the opener. Made a great block to deny Gibbs-White.

FW Raheem Sterling, 7 — Wasn’t always on the same wavelength as his teammates in the early stages but picked out Mount well in the box, then scored the opener with a clinical finish. Was dispossessed by Boly then gave away a free kick on the edge of his own box as he faded out of the game.

FW Kai Havertz, 5 — Dropped deep to link play nicely and showed good presence at times, but he was guilty of providing a loose touch in the box on a couple of occasions to waste promising openings. His unconvincing header made things difficult for Forest’s equalizer.

FW Christian Pulisic, 6 — Often gave Forest’s defenders real problems whenever he got them into a one-on-one situation, beating Joe Worrall with ease and delivering the cross that led to the opener, while Aurier also struggled against him. Hit a weak shot from a promising position and was outjumped by Boly for the equalizer.

Substitutes

MF Mateo Kovacic, 5 — Replaced Zakaria in the 61st minute and was not able to do anything to keep Forest from equalizing just two minutes later.

FW Hakim Ziyech, N/R — Looked most likely to make things happen, delivering a wonderful cross that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang failed to convert.

MF Conor Gallagher, N/R — Immediately looked to get on the ball upon his introduction, playing some nice passes forward, but to no avail.

FW Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, N/R — Tried to make things happen but failed to hit the target with his header from Ziyech’s exquisite cross.

FW Carney Chukwuemeka, N/R — Couldn’t find a way to help Chelsea to a winner after his late introduction.

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