Start of a new era? Cup win would be ‘clear progress’ for Pochettino

23 February 2024 0 By Total Football News

Pochettino high fives Sterling as he makes his way off the pitch after being substitutedMauricio Pochettino has yet to win a trophy in England

Venue: Wembley Stadium Date: Sunday, 25 February Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live and follow live text on the BBC Sport website and app.

Mauricio Pochettino’s first season at Chelsea has been challenging.

Not only has he taken charge of a new club with ambitious new owners, but he has had to contend with a young side that has been consistently hampered by injuries.

When Chelsea beat Middlesbrough in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi-final, the Blues boss said it was a big achievement as he had to build the team from “nearly zero”.

There have been times this season when it seemed like the Pochettino project would not work and he has been under pressure from fans and the weight of the club’s modern history of winning trophies.

Chelsea have lost their past five finals at Wembley but Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Liverpool has the chance to give the club a huge lift and a clear mark of progress.

Signs of progress?

When Pochettino arrived in the summer, there was lots of optimism. There was an understanding that he had a lot of new players to integrate in the squad but the hierarchy at the club had planned for European football to be returning to Stamford Bridge.

However, the obstacles started in pre-season.

He lost £52m summer signing Christopher Nkunku to a knee injury, with the striker making just nine appearances since returning in December.

Chelsea’s ruthlessness in front of goal has been criticised this season but it is hard not to be sympathetic when Pochettino has been without one of the key cogs of his attack.

The injury issues have not stopped there. Captain Reece James has again been troubled by hamstring problems and has had to have surgery, and has also been limited to nine appearances this season.

Alongside injuries to Ben Chilwell, Benoit Badiashile and £58m signing Romeo Lavia, it’s been hard for Pochettino to build a settled line-up.

Would silverware mark first season as success?

Pochettino holds his hand to his head on the touchlineChelsea currently sit in 10th place in the Premier League, 14 points adrift of the top four

When Chelsea lost against Liverpool on 31 January and Wolves four days later, there were some supporters who were calling for Pochettino to be sacked.

Those at the club said the manager was never in danger and pointed to the month of progress before that poor run of results, which had seen them secure their place in Sunday’s final.

Since losing at home to Wolves, Chelsea are unbeaten in three away games – beating Aston Villa 3-1 in an FA Cup fourth-round replay, defeating Crystal Palace by the same score in the Premier League and then drawing 1-1 at champions Manchester City.

Former Chelsea midfielder Pat Nevin said: “Chelsea have suddenly begun to resemble a grown-up football team.

“The maturing process was always going to take a while, but the performances against Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and now Man City have underlined that Mauricio Pochettino should lead them to much more than mid-table mediocrity next season.”

Competing at the top of the league and being back in the Champions League is the long-term ambition but a piece of silverware could be the start of a new era at the club.

When Jose Mourinho was in charge at Chelsea, the League Cup in 2005 was the first trophy he won and started a period of dominance, which saw him and the club win the Premier League twice, the FA Cup and the League Cup again.

For Pochettino, being able to say he has won silverware in his first season as Chelsea boss, while delivering European football, would be a huge milestone and the manager believes it could just be the start.

“The job is done but now it is about winning the final. From another side it is like it is not important as Chelsea is about winning the Champions League and Premier League,” Pochettino said.

“We need to start to realise and give credit to the team – as this is a team where a massive percentage didn’t maybe play at Wembley [before]. It’s important for the club, important for us and in this process to build a new team.”

Can Pochettino use silverware as a springboard?

As Tottenham manager, he lost in the final of the League Cup to Chelsea in 2015 and lost the Champions League final to Liverpool in 2019.

He won the first trophies of his managerial career in France with Paris St-Germain and says he is “desperate” to lift a trophy for the first time in England.

European football looks hard to come by through the league as Chelsea are 14 points from the Champions League places and nine points from the Europa League spots.

Winning Sunday’s final could be bigger than the physical trophy and act as the start of a mindset change at the club.

Chelsea defender Malo Gusto, who joined from Lyon for £30.7m in January 2023 but only met up with the squad this summer after finishing the previous campaign at his former club, believes Pochettino is having a big impact.

The 20-year-old said: “He knows he has to wake up our mentality, to wake up our desire to win everything. We are Chelsea and a big club like Chelsea has to win everything, to keep fighting.

“That’s what he has tried to do to keep and get everyone all together. I think the most important thing during this new project is this: to help each other and stay all together. If we do that, we can win more, I think.

“He helps us a lot. He has tried to show us the desire to win, to keep fighting against every team. He talks to us a lot about tactics, technique and everything. He is a good person as well. He tries to help us a lot on the pitch and off it as well. He is a good coach for this young team.”

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