Graham Potter said Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has done “nothing wrong” after he was left out of Chelsea’s Champions League squad for the rest of the season.
Aubameyang flew to Milan after being told he would not be involved in the team’s Premier League clash with Fulham on Friday night, which ended in a goalless stalemate as £106.5million record-signing Enzo Fernandez made his Blues debut.
The Argentina World Cup winner was one of three new signings added to Potter’s European selection ahead of the last-16 first-leg meeting with Borussia Dortmund on February 15, but the Blues boss insisted the omission of striker Aubameyang, who joined from Barcelona last summer, was simply a matter of numbers.
“He’s a professional,” said Potter. “I understand he’ll be disappointed. It was a tough call. Pierre is just unfortunate and he’ll be fighting for his place for the rest of the season.
“Whichever decision we made there was always going to be conversation about it. It was my decision. You have to make these calls. He’s done nothing wrong at all.
“I’ve got a responsibility to articulate these decisions as well as I can to the player. He’s handled it very well, he trained today fantastically.”
Potter’s team were held to a goalless draw by a well-drilled Fulham side whose industry at Stamford Bridge drained much of the optimism that had built up around Chelsea in the final days of the transfer window.
Fernandez, who signed in the final hours before Tuesday’s transfer deadline, was heavily involved but was unable to provide the spark his new side needed to unlock Fulham, as the hosts’ indifferent league form extended to one win in six games and they continued to lag in the race to make the top four.
The former Benfica midfielder came close to winning it late on for Chelsea when his snap first-time effort curled just beyond the reach of goalkeeper Bernd Leno and dropped wide of the post. However, it was fellow new signing David Fofana – a relatively modest £10m capture from Molde – who had the best chance when his late effort was cleared off the line by defender Tim Ream.
“I thought he handled himself magnificently,” said Potter of Fernandez.
“You could see his quality, see what he’ll bring to the team. It wasn’t easy for him or for us because he hasn’t been with us that long. But I’m excited with him.
“I think we have a lot of positivity and good feeling, certainly from the start of the game, and the crowd helped with that. Within the team there was a good feeling.
“I agree that we didn’t do enough in terms of our attacking play to create more, which is something we need to do.
“That bit of connection, that fluidity and understanding, we probably lacked a little bit, which is understandable when we’ve got players coming back from injury and new players in the team. That’s just where we’re at at the moment.
“In the Premier League against organised defensive units, you’re always on your toes. Some positives from us, I thought the effort was there, the spirit was there. But as an attacking team we’d like to do more.”
Fulham boss Marco Silva was pleased with his team’s performance as they came away with a well-earned point from Stamford Bridge.
“It was a proper derby,” said Silva. “A good derby from ourselves.
“From the first minute the players understood the plan and executed it well. We were here to embrace the challenge, to face them and play eye-to-eye against Chelsea.”