The final whistle was greeted with a huge cheer around an impassioned City Ground as Serge Aurier’s equaliser enabled Nottingham Forest to climb level with 17th place but Chelsea’s status under Graham Potter remains a matter for debate after they let slip a lead established by Raheem Sterling’s opener.
Chelsea have won only once, against Bournemouth on Tuesday, in seven league games as they enter a critical week in which they play Manchester City twice. Edging above Brighton to level on points with seventh-placed Fulham was, presumably, not what Todd Boehly, the Chelsea co-owner, had in mind when he hired Potter from the former to replace Thomas Tuchel as head coach in September. Perhaps next Sunday’s visit to the Etihad in the third round of the FA Cup represents a better route to success this season than Thursday’s Premier League home game against the champions.
That Chelsea managed one effort at goal – off target – in the second half is a damning indictment on an attacking array of talent against a Forest team who deserved their point for sheer stubborn bloody-mindedness as much as anything. If Morgan Gibbs-White’s second-half shot against the crossbar had bounced down over the line, Steve Cooper’s team would arguably have deserved victory as they extended their unbeaten home run to six matches.
Nottingham Forest have lesser players than Chelsea but a superior team ethic. Forest have new signings swiftly assimilated by an alchemist of a manager in Steve Cooper. Forest have a presence and identity that Chelsea lack. These are realities that Chelsea and Graham Potter needed to reflect on as they retreated south last night with a lucky point.
Chelsea pursue reinforcements, including the centre back Benoît Badiashile from Monaco and central midfield player Enzo Fernández from Benfica, but what they also need is identity (as well as a centre forward). It is hard to know exactly what Potter’s Chelsea side are; they make plenty of passes but don’t always go anywhere.
The contrast was sharp with Cooper’s Forest, who exuded belief, togetherness and intensity, especially after the break where they pressed more and really rattled Chelsea. It was a collection of individuals versus a collective. Forest should have won. Cooper had Potter over a barrel here.
So much for the notion that the World Cup would have restorative powers for Chelsea, bringing a reset and a revival under Graham Potter. They might have beaten Bournemouth, but they lost a lead, two points and their way against Nottingham Forest. After delivering a performance of resounding mediocrity, a disjointed side go into a double-header against Manchester City with their chances of a top-four finish dented further.
Such New Year’s Honours as were awarded at the City Ground went instead to Forest, who produced a rousing second-half comeback to underline that they are becoming a decidedly awkward proposition on their own turf. It was capped by Serge Aurier’s first Forest goal. Another of their 22 summer signings, Morgan Gibbs-White, was the game’s outstanding player. He was Forest’s record signing while Chelsea were Europe’s biggest spenders last summer. If, at times, it scarcely looked as though some £400m had been spent on these squads, Gibbs-White nevertheless illustrated his quality.
Twelve of Forest’s 14 points have now come at home and, following victory against Liverpool and the Carabao Cup triumph over Tottenham, it was further proof they can bloody the noses of their supposed superiors at the City Ground. They might have been buoyed, too, by the sense they had little to fear from Chelsea. It might have galvanised them at the break.
Some things are changing in the top four of the Premier League while others are staying the same. Arsenal and Newcastle are the fresh, energetic interlopers while defending champions Manchester City carry the confidence of permanence and reputation.
The very top of the English game currently feels a little new and it feels alive. What it means to clubs like Chelsea is that they simply cannot afford to have many more afternoons like this one if they are not to be left behind.
Graham Potter and his team have won of their last seven league games now and are seven points adrift of fourth place. Potter has been hired to construct a long-term rebuild at Stamford Bridge and should be afforded time to do that.
But Chelsea are eighth now and it will be hard for Potter and new owner Todd Boehly to do the things they want from outside of the Champions League next season so over the course of the coming weeks, things must improve. Here at an increasingly excited City Ground, there was much to concern them.
Serge Aurier grabbed a deserved equaliser for Nottingham Forest to hold Chelsea to a damaging draw in the Premier League on New Year’s Day.
Chelsea took the lead out of the blue when Christian Pulisic’s cross deflected onto the crossbar via a touch from Willy Boly and dropped invitingly for Raheem Sterling to blast home. Brennan Johnson spurned two good chances to equalise and Morgan Gibbs-White struck the underside of the crossbar before Forest made it 1-1.
The visitors failed to clear a corner and Boly nodded down for Aurier, who showed great composure to control the ball and hit a volley through Kepa Arrizabalaga’s legs. Graham Potter brought on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Hakim Ziyech and Conor Gallagher, but the substitutes could not turn the tide.
Chelsea remain eighth in the Premier League table, on 25 points from 16 games. They are seven points adrift of Manchester United in fourth and have won just one of their last seven league matches.