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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Why time is running out for Mauricio Pochettino at Chelsea


Another day, another huge disappointment as Chelsea crashed 4-2 at home to Wolves on Sunday. After taking over last summer, manager Mauricio Pochettino’s honeymoon at Stamford Bridge is most definitely over now. Regarded as an elite manager since taking Tottenham Hotspur to a Champions League final in 2019, what has happened to “Poch”?

Chelsea was not going to be an easy gig amid the chaos that has gripped the club since the end of the golden era under former owner Roman Abramovich, which yielded 19 trophies in 19 years including two Champions League triumphs.

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A transitional settling-in period was always going to be allowed for Pochettino after co-owner Todd Boehly hired him to replace Graham Potter, who himself only lasted eight months after filling the vacancy left by Tuchel’s firing. But now it is February — deep into the season — and there is little sign of any real cohesion, direction, identity, fight or style about Pochettino’s team.

They were booed off on Sunday and a fan base bred on a generation of success is distinctly unhappy. Speaking after the Wolves defeat, Pochettino apologised to fans and said “at the moment we are not matching the history of the club. We need to accept that and to be critical, but we cannot give up.”

Before the home humiliation at the hands of Gary O’Neil’s pacy Wolves outfit, the recent 4-1 thrashing at Liverpool was a jarring reminder of the huge gap between this Chelsea side and the elite teams in the Premier League.

And all this after a haphazard transfer spree when the recruitment team splashed out €1 billion and forgot to buy an established star striker. Chelsea needed a new Didier Drogba. Instead they got Nicolas Jackson, who arrived with only promise after a few goals for Villarreal in LaLiga. He has not looked like the answer. Christopher Nkunku came with a bigger reputation from RB Leipzig but has been injured for most of his time at the Bridge.

It would seem you don’t get much for a €1bn these days because World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez and Moisés Caicedo just do not look the midfield maestros we saw for Argentina and Brighton, respectively, and both cost over £100m.

And for how much longer can Pochettino rely on 39-year-old Thiago Silva in central defence? He has had a classy, stellar career, but it is hard to remain effective in the Premier League on aging legs.

As for the other signings, suffice to say quantity has mostly outstripped quality. Chelsea, in 11th place, have no hope of making the top four, so Wednesday’s FA Cup replay at Aston Villa (stream LIVE on ESPN+) is now huge for Pochettino. Winning that trophy would earn a European place, but on their form it is hard to forecast a victory at Villa Park.

The one crumb of consolation is that Chelsea, helped by a series of kind draws at home, have reached the Carabao Cup final. But that final is against Liverpool, and Pochettino will need to get a far better tune from his team than he did at Anfield. They need to show some backbone.

The wait goes on for Chelsea’s misfits to click and match the impact of their best signing — Cole Palmer — who signed for £40 million and has provided 10 goals since his move from Manchester City.

Pochettino, a warm and likeable man with a deservedly big reputation, likes to have a bowl of lemons on his desk because he believes they give off positive energy. A bowl? Right now he needs a lorry load.

Unless there are signs of a marked improvement soon — or a Wembley triumph against Liverpool — Pochettino will find those lemons can be sour.

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