Graham Potter insists Chelsea “think the world” of Conor Gallagher despite the England midfielder’s struggles to win a regular starting place in the team.
The Blues manager cited tactical decisions as the reason the 23-year-old has been named among the substitutes in recent weeks, with a midfield pair of Enzo Fernandez and Mateo Kovacic preferred for Saturday’s 2-2 home draw with Everton.
Gallagher has started 10 times in the Premier League this season, most recently in the goalless draw with Fulham at Stamford bridge on February 3, and his chances have been limited since the influx of new signings in January and the return of injured players.
He was linked with a return to Crystal Palace, where he impressed on loan last season, but Chelsea made clear they had no intention of allowing him to leave during the transfer window.
The manager said after the Everton draw that it was a matter of finding room in the side for Gallagher – who replaced Christian Pulisic with 30 minutes to go – with other players in good form.
“We used Kova (Kovacic) and Enzo in midfield, so it was just a tactical decision there,” said Potter. “Then the front three was Joao (Felix), Kai (Havertz) and Christian Pulisic because of a profile of player, a bit more like dribblers, so I went for Christian in that role (on the left of a front three)
“Conor has been really unlucky because whenever he comes on he does really well. He’ll be frustrated and rightly so. But we think the world of him and he’s a fantastic team player.”
Chelsea were denied a fourth straight win by a late equaliser from Everton’s Ellis Simms, who outmuscled Kalidou Koulibaly and fired past Kepa Arrizabalaga in the 89th minute.
It was a game they had largely dominated, and they looked to have earned a win with goals from Felix and Havertz, either side of a goal by Abdoulaye Doucoure, before Simms struck at the end.
“I’d like to keep the conversation (from the dressing room) private, but the boys are frustrated,” said Potter. “They they put a lot into the game, the intention was there, they wanted to win.
“Performance wise, it was strong from us. But we’re really, really frustrated because we can’t concede the goals we did and expect to win games.”