Chelsea are a mess – what can Poch salvage from the wreckage?


Wherever Chelsea go, chaos follows. Stamford Bridge has turned into a playground, one rife with incident, drama and delirium. Mauricio Pochettino appears forlorn. Sections of fans have begun to turn too.

And yet this enigma of a team, which changes its idiosyncrasies from game to game, can still finish among the European spots this season. Where is the sense in that?

An increasingly frustrated Pochettino has made no attempt to suggest Chelsea, in his guise, are particularly far along in their evolution. In fact, he has begun ditching the original ‘trust the process’ rhetoric in favour of a more realistic assessment, hinting that too many players are happy to cruise in the “comfort zone”.


Monday 15th April 6:30pm


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The Argentine, nine months into the job, wears the look of a man worn down by the strains of such a burdensome project – the next step of which sees Chelsea take on Everton on Monday Night Football, live on Sky Sports.

“Maybe this group is not mature enough to compete in games every three days,” he said after dropping points to bottom club Sheffield United, a week after also losing points to 19th-placed Burnley. Results that have contrived to undermine small tokens of recent progress.

Chelsea's head coach Mauricio Pochettino ahead the English Premier League soccer match between Sheffield United and Chelsea at Bramall Lane stadium in Sheffield, England, Sunday, April 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
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Mauricio Pochettino left scratching his head after Chelsea threw away a last-minute lead vs Sheffield United

What could have been a three-point gap to sixth-placed Manchester United with a game in hand remains five. More opportunity missed by a team whose own worst enemy is increasingly themselves.

Take Benoit Badiashile’s ability to switch off, within 60 seconds of coming on, and lose Oli McBurnie for Sheffield United’s 93rd-minute equaliser last weekend as a case in point.

Chelsea have spent more than £1bn in four transfer windows since being taken over by Clearlake Capital. The majority of that spend has been targeted on players under 25 – the idea being they will increase in quality and value as a team – but the numerous flaws in that so-called ‘strategy’ are exposed most weeks.

Pochettino, the third permanent manager under said ownership, has been left with one of the youngest squads in Europe. “It is a new team with profiles in the squad that we are learning,” he reiterated last Sunday.

Not wrong, but learning on the job over a sustained period of time has its obvious risks – particularly at a club like Chelsea.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Chelsea

There is no magic wand. The Premier League does not grant wishes. Pochettino is still waiting for his eureka moment. A turning point was mooted when reaching the Carabao Cup final in February, and again when beating Newcastle in March – and again when overturning a stoppage-time deficit to stun Manchester United. Nothing came of it.

Who are the real Chelsea? Certainly not a team underpinned by clear direction or vision – or even one with an identifiable playing style. Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson emphasises the point: “It’s extremely difficult to predict who will play for Chelsea from one week to the next, let alone what style they will play in.”

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United

The individual brilliance of Cole Palmer and dogged defiance of Conor Gallagher is repeatedly subverted by the inefficiency of midfield duo Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez, for example. Or the ineptitude of an ever-changing backline. The Blues have shipped 52 goals this term, five more than they conceded in the entirety of last season.

At the heart, Chelsea are dynamic and fleetingly entertaining, but equally fallible and flawed. With nine games of the season – 10 if they make it past Manchester City to the FA Cup final – to salvage something from the wreckage, where does Pochettino turn next?

Fernandez, Caicedo are ineffective – stats prove it

Fernandez’s tete-a-tete with Mason Mount during the closing stages of Chelsea’s win over Man Utd may have endeared him to some, but the fact that incident was his most notable contribution was telling.

The Argentina international arrived in January 2023 for a staggering £106.8m, a fee embellished by his new-found status as a world champion, but is yet to come close to providing value for money.

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Fernandez is at his best as a No 8, given license to influence games in all areas of the pitch, but it is hard to find any category in which he excels.

The same is true for Caicedo, the £115m summer signing whose own standout moment against United was a pass to Alejandro Garnacho, who quickly punished the error by scoring his side’s first goal. If only Romeo Lavia was fit.

Among Premier League midfielders per 90 minutes this season, neither Fernandez nor Caicedo rank in the top 40 for goals, assists or completed take-ons, placing undue pressure on Gallagher to provide an attacking spark from midfield.

Moises Caicedo has been a shadow of former self since joining Chelsea from Brighton for £115m
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Moises Caicedo has been a shadow of his former self since joining Chelsea from Brighton for £115m

Those underwhelming figures could be forgiven if the pair dominated defensively. Instead, they are just as poor, again placing outside the league’s top 40 for duels won, interceptions and ball recoveries.

This lack of protection provided to Chelsea’s back four helps to explain why they have conceded 15 goals in their last seven games, and contributes to the side’s habit of ceding control of matches when placed under pressure.

Fernandez and Caicedo did not ask to be signed for astronomical sums, or for the added scrutiny. But their performances for Argentina and Brighton respectively show they are capable of better – and Chelsea need them to start showing it, or boldly rotate out.

Schoolboy defending costs points

Chelsea were twice pegged back by ten-player Burnley in topsy-turvy game at Stamford Bridge
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Chelsea are conceding an average of 1.7 goals per game in the Premier League

Problems in midfield. Problems in defence. Issues are widespread.

Chelsea have been breached 27 times in 13 matches across all competitions since their last clean sheet – a goalless draw with Aston Villa in January.

“The capacity, the energy, the hunger – that is the minimum to compete in the Premier League,” says Pochettino. He is right. But what about the basics? Chelsea rank 11th for average goals conceded this term – 1.7 per game.

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Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino was frustrated at the level of defending in the 2-2 draw with Sheffield United

They chart 16th for clean sheets (five), while their expected goals conceded – 45.4 – puts them 15th. Errors have led to goals, and goals have squandered points with an alarming frequency.

Long-term defensive injuries to captain Reece James and Wesley Fofana – and sporadically Ben Chilwell – offer some degree of mitigation, but do not exonerate a team mired by immaturity.

The basic principles that govern any successful side at any level – shape, structure, organisation, responsibility – have been all too often lacking.

Desperate hope or cautious optimism?

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And yet, despite the injuries, inconsistencies and ineffectiveness, Chelsea remain within touching distance of a return to Europe. It is possible that finishing eighth in the Premier League could be enough to qualify for the Conference League, while lifting the FA Cup will guarantee a place in the Europa League.

Pochettino has also overseen progress in certain areas, most obviously in attack. Chelsea have scored almost twice as many goals per 90 minutes in the Premier League compared to last season, while they were held goalless in 37 per cent of their matches last season. Pochettino has reduced that number to 17 per cent.

Chelsea can also point to Palmer as not just a rare success for their recruitment team, but a slam dunk signing that Pochettino has helped to turn into one of the Premier League’s standout players.

In the early days of his reign, the 52-year-old insisted he would return Chelsea to Europe by the end of his first season. That remains a realistic proposition – and victory over Everton would represent a vital step towards that goal.

Watch Chelsea vs Everton on Monday Night Football, live on Sky Sports Premier League from 6.30pm; kick-off 8pm.

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