Pochettino At The Bridge: A Young Squad & A Mess To Solve

Pochettino At The Bridge: A Young Squad & A Mess To Solve

“I know Chelsea very well,
it is one of the greatest clubs in the world.
So of course, it was easy for us to make the decision to move here.” 

Mauricio Pochettino, once a worshiped figure in the white half of North London, irked quite a few of his former fans by calling Chelsea one of the greatest clubs in the world, much to the jubilation of his new ones in West London.

The man who once stood on enemy turf during the famous Battle of the Bridge, will now be donning the colours of his former foes. On the surface, it might seem like a dodgy move that could quickly go south, but once the layers are peeled back, Chelsea and Pochettino are a pair that weirdly make sense.

As Chelsea’s new era under Pochettino begins with their pre season tour to the United States under-way, all eyes will be on how the Argentine manager deals with the clear and obvious shortcomings of Chelsea’s torrid 2022/23 season. He has already looked to deal with some of those key issues in squad, starting with improving the fitness levels which were at an all time low last season.

With his use of the infamous ‘Gacon Test’, there have been several murmurs from in and around the club as to how the players have been put to the sword on the training ground. As seen with his Southampton and Tottenham teams, Pochettino wants his team to press high and play with intensity right from minute one, which requires fitness standards to be high.

Before last season ended, it became clear that Chelsea needed to cut down on the numbers on the training ground. Along with the need to also generate funds and lower wages, a number of underperforming and overpaid players were put up for sale, including the likes of Mason Mount and Kai Havertz whose departures raked in more than £120 million for the club.

Much of the squad has been trimmed down significantly already, but there are also gaping holes in terms of both personnel and experience in certain positions that Chelsea will need to address. After having let go of Kovacic, Kante, Jorginho and Loftus-Cheek in the last 7 months, Chelsea’s midfield is threadbare. Caicedo is a name that has been constantly linked with the club all summer. It’s a deal that will need to be gotten over the line despite the hefty price.

Nevertheless, Pochettino’s remit will be to rely less on transfer splurge from Boehly and co, and more on trying to develop and nurture the abundant young talent that Chelsea have stockpiled over the last 2 windows. “We are excited to work with a very young team, with a different approach than in the past”, said Pochettino in his first interview with the club.

After impressing at youth level for club and country, returning loanees in Casadei, Santos, Colwill, etc. will have to be shown a pathway into the first team. Unlike the majority of Abramovich’s reign where fledgling youngsters were just loaned out and never given a real sniff of first team football, the new owners have a different vision, perhaps following Real Madrid’s blueprint that has led Los Blancos to so much success.

Along with sporting directors Paul Winstanely and Lawrence Stewart, the plan seems clear to want to build a young and talented team which could potentially go on to become the spine of Chelsea’s future for the next decade or so. “From the beginning, the owners and sporting directors were very clear about the project and we were very excited to join them in this project”, he continued.

But this requires patience from both the board as well as the fans. To their credit, they did show a lot of patience last season in persisting with Graham Potter despite the abysmal results. Eventually though, they had to bite the bullet by sacking Potter, who never quite got a grip of the magnitude of both Chelsea’s dressing room and the size of expectations surrounding the club.

But this time around, they have a manager who has been a part of big dressing rooms, none bigger and more divisive than that of his previous team, PSG. In his spell at Paris, Pochettino had his task cut out by having to manage a dressing room containing the likes of Mbappe, Neymar, Messi and Ramos. Those names are as big as they get.

However, he still won a league title with the Parisian club, a year after he finally broke his duck of never having won a major honour as a coach by winning the French Super Cup. And yet, winning a title with such a star studded team feels more like a necessity at PSG than an achievement.

Now, he manages a club starting a new chapter with renewed hope, a club that not only aspires to win, but also provides the financial backing for managers to do so. In one way or another, this will be a make or break season for Chelsea, their owners, and Pochettino himself. The Blues are in a transition phase, which if not gotten right, could prolong into many more seasons without European football and them sinking into the abyss.

For the owners, it has been a tumultuous 12 months to say the least. From acquiring the club in the most strangest of circumstances, to all the dubious public statements, managerial sackings and the record money spent in both the summer and winter windows, the magnifying lens will be on them to see if they finally get it right this time around, or if they are just another group of Americans dipping their feet in unknown waters.

As for Pochettino himself, he returns to the Premier League again. Along with having to win the fans over, he will also have to build a team from scratch, with an ongoing clearout of the squad that won the Champions League in 2022. He will have a point to prove to his naysayers who still believe that he doesn’t have the winning DNA in him.

The former PSG defender has worked up the managerial ladder the right way up. Having started his coaching career at humble beginnings with Espanyol, he made a move to the Premier League in 2013 to Southampton as an interim coach. But the outstanding results saw him further his career as a Southampton coach, before being poached by Spurs in 2014.

It is at Spurs where he experienced his greatest spell as a manager. Quite similar to this Chelsea team, he built a squad of youngsters at Tottenham who slowly started competing with the big boys again. Having missed out on the Premier League title in 2015/16, Pochettino’s men reached the finals of the 2017/18 Champions League season, which is where he reached his peak.

Despite losing out in the final against Liverpool, Spurs had a solid spine with players like Kane, Eriksen, Alli, Dembele, Alderweireld and Lloris who became established Premier League players under the Argentine boss. Pochettino will have to replicate something similar at Stamford Bridge, and maybe even go a step further this time by actually getting his hands on some silverware.

When Chelsea takes on Liverpool on August 13th, Pochettino will have a chance to show the Blues faithful a pathway into a hopeful future. The Blues have been here before, having needed a restart several times in the last 2 decades. But this rendition could be the most defining chapter in the club’s history, and Pochettino will be at the forefront of it all.

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