An international debut against Honduras soon followed in September, as his form for the Portuguese giants made it impossible for Lionel Scaloni to ignore. The exorbitant outlay has shone a light on the Chelsea ownership’s wisdom, yet the ingredients are there for Fernandez to blossom into a transcendent player.
Potter is barely familiar with Fernandez on a personal level, yet his immediate selection, at the heart of the Blues’ midfield, was revealing.
There is a lot to unpack in Fernandez’s game; inheriting the No 5 shirt from Jorginho, who moved across London to Arsenal this week, Chelsea hope they have another metronome in possession. His magnetic presence in Portugal suggests he might just be that, with the prolific distribution having led the league with 1,432 passes – 286 more than the next most in former teammate Nicolas Otamendi (1,145).
But there is hope Fernandez’s infectious presence can be seen without the ball too, having made the fifth most tackles by centre-midfielders in the Champions League group stage.
He immediately stood out here with his peroxide hair providing a white flash across the base of Chelsea’s midfield. And his passing quickly illuminated a game lacking quality elsewhere. Neat and tidy while splitting Thiago Silva and Benoit Badiashile in possession, Fernandez soon showed his range, thumping a switch out wide to the onrushing Reece James.
And while the smooth distribution caught the eye, Fernandez’s combative style ensured he thrived in the cauldron of this London derby. The hardened shell of Fulham’s shape and organisation asked whether Fernandez was up for the fight. Quite literally at times, with Aleksandar Mitrovic wrestling him to the turf at a corner.
But for Hakim Ziyech’s wild finish, Chelsea might have had an opener thanks to one of several crunching Fernandez challenges too, with Andreas Pereira left crumpled before the quick release opened up the Whites.
Chelsea’s Enzo Fernandez in action
Part of the difficulty for Fernandez was how isolated he was at times, with Conor Gallagher and Mason Mount pushed up in possession. It limited where Fernandez could receive the ball and the angles to manipulate the ball to unsettle Fulham’s block.
The game gradually opened up in the second half though, allowing a glimpse of a more expansive role with Fernandez floating into areas and picking up scraps. As moves broke down, Fernandez sniffed a debut goal and he was inches away when his curling effort beat Bernd Leno and the far post.
But while Potter now has a midfielder to build his team and style around, the pieces to the puzzle further forward remain a mystery.
Ziyech and Mykhailo Mudryk started the game, both were substituted, with Noni Madueke and Raheem Sterling adding little more coherence in relief. And Mount and Gallagher frustrated at times, too. Kai Havertz is still unconvincing as the side’s No 9.
It all means Fernandez is just one answer to a host of questions left for Potter to answer in what is still a work in progress.
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