Chelsea head coach Mauricio Pochettino is already feeling the heat after calls for the Blues boss to be sacked began to emanate following their 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa on Sunday. The west London side were reduced to 10 men when Malo Gusto was sent off following a VAR intervention and Ollie Watkins fired home a 73th-minute winner to compound their misery. While Pochettino faced taunts of ‘sacked in the morning’ from the travelling fans, even Todd Boehly would be foolish to wield the axe.
There is nothing to suggest Chelsea would even be willing to consider sacking Pochettino just yet. But the presence of co-owner Behdad Eghbali in the dressing room following their 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa would have prompted a shuddering reminder of how he and Boehly visited the dressing room last time after losing 2-0 at Tottenham. Three weeks later, Graham Potter was sacked.
On this occasion, the message was simple: Pochettino is the face of the new Chelsea, so get used to it. Still, it is amazing how quickly things can change when teams slide into the relegation zone. And for a short period near the tail end of last season, Chelsea flirted dangerously with the bottom three – something that would have been inconceivable two years ago under Roman Abramovich’s rule.
He fired Thomas Tuchel and ditched Graham Potter. But it is still early days in Pochettino’s reign and, as Express Sport explains, there are three clear reasons to suggest Boehly should stick with his man and avoid another catastrophe.
Pochettino’s best men still out
For their 0-0 draw against Bournemouth last week, Chelsea were forced to field a 20-man squad while coping with 12 players out due to injuries, illness or suspension. No club in the world would be able to deal with such a large number of absentees and remain unaffected because of the limited squad numbers, so Pochettino put 18-year-olds such as Deivid Washington and Ronnie Stutter on the bench.
Christopher Nkunku, Reece James, Trevoh Chalobah, Carney Chukwuemeka, Wesley Fofana, Benoit Badiashile and Romeo Lavia have all been missing for the last three games. That’s £250m worth of talent, plus two well-established academy graduates, out of action. It’s no wonder Chelsea have looked off-colour with so many key players out. Pochettino’s plans for a 4-2-3-1 were wrecked the moment Nkunku was ruled out, and he has been struggling to find the right setup ever since.
It does not excuse Chelsea for their performances on the pitch, but players such as Enzo Fernandez and Raheem Sterling looked jaded against Aston Villa, having started every game so far. A lot has been asked of Nicolas Jackson, too, as he has been the only striker available. Until he gets his key players back, it would be absolutely unfair to fire Pochettino when it is fair to say even Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp would struggle with the same number of absentees.
Slow starts rewarded by success
Pochettino may be wondering himself how Chelsea are in such a rut having looked so sharp and potent in pre-season. But starting slowly in the league is something the Argentinian has become accustomed to in his managerial career. When he took over as Southampton manager from Nigel Adkins in January 2012, Pochettino won only one of his first seven games in charge, leading many to question if their brutal sacking of Adkins was the right choice.
But only 18 months later, he had the Saints playing some eye-catching football and beating teams while doing so. In his first full season in charge, the South Coast side finished eighth – their highest-ever Premier League finish – and he was swiftly poached by Tottenham.
The same sub-par beginning to his reign followed at Spurs, with two wins in his first six games and a couple of underwhelming draws in the Europa League against Partizan Belgrade and Besiktas thrown in for equal measure. But over the course of his five-year reign in north London, Pochettino secured a top-four finish on three occasions and led them to a Champions League final.
And when he took over at PSG, his first game generated a 1-1 draw with Saint-Etienne and the French giants lost 3-2 at Lorient. But at the end of the 2022-23 season, Pochettino was able to celebrate with his first league title before he parted ways with the club. If Chelsea are patient, his methods have been proven to work with time and they should eventually find their feet.
Blame Boehly for the mess
To say Boehly’s 18-month reign has been a rollercoaster ride would be an understatement. Fans of Thorpe Park have had smoother rides on Stealth than what the American has put Chelsea through, with five coaches, £1billion spent on players and a 12th-place finish in his first season at the helm. Handing Thomas Tuchel his P45 just a week after the transfer window shut remains one of the most mystifying sacking decisions in recent memory.
It is, of course, the players who are required to put in performances in training and on the pitch, but the constant noise from the hierarchy and knee-jerk decisions from Boehly have proved to be an unwanted distraction. Not to mention the fact that he approved the departures of 17 players this summer to raise £300m, half of whom were key squad members, before splashing out £428m on 11 new players for Pochettino. Six games is not enough time to get them playing.
The billionaire has been keen for Chelsea to commit to the future by signing young players under the age of 21, but while they may be talented and possess huge potential, many of them are not ready to play for Chelsea when they need instant improvements. The fact Pochettino had to field a bench of nine players with six youngsters who hadn’t even made their debut showed what a mess he has been left to clear up – and Boehly must take his large share of responsibility for that.