Five reasons Pochettino has *actually* had a good first season at Chelsea

five reasons pochettino has *actually* had a good first season at chelsea

Mauricio Pochettino is turning things around at Chelsea.

Having walked a Chelsea tightrope for much of his first season at Stamford Bridge, Mauricio Pochettino now looks to be on reasonably solid ground for the first time.

They’re unbeaten in eight Premier League games and are somehow now just three points off sixth with a game in hand having given Everton a hiding on Monday.

And as calls for his sacking have died down to the odd murmur, we’ve taken stock and considered whether Pochettino’s first season in charge of this mess of a football club may actually have been quite good. We came up with five reasons…

 

Scoring goals (and conceding them)

The last time Chelsea scored more than 61 goals after 31 league games was the 2016-17 season (66 goals) when they won the league title under Antonio Conte. Remember when everyone was banging on about the number of chances Chelsea were missing? It wasn’t that long ago; 23 goals in their last eight Premier League games has put paid to that particular line of criticism.

Sure, the other side of the coin is that Chelsea have shipped 52 goals, only conceding more in a 38-game season in 2015-16 (53), 2019-20 (54) and 1996-97 (55). But it’s far more fun scoring goals than not conceding them, and surely easier to fix a leaky defence than an attack lacking creativity.

Asked about their concerning defensive record, Pochettino said: “If we are only thinking about having a clean sheet, we need to play with the keeper and see if we can score one goal on transition. Chelsea, in my opinion, is about going forward to create chances and score goals.”

Actually Poch, Chelsea have rarely been about that, with success almost always built on defensive solidity, but we fully endorse a philosophy that has entertainment at its core. And while we’re on that…

 

Entertainment

It’s been largely painful viewing for Chelsea fans this season, particularly against sides that have in previous eras been swatted aside with disdain. But Chelsea games have made for absorbing viewing for the neutrals, and for the fans on those odd occasions when Pochettino’s side have come out on top.

The Tottenham high line and Nicolas Jackson hat-trick; the Cole Palmer double past the 100th minute against Manchester United; 4-4 against Manchester City; 3-2 wins over Brighton, Newcastle and Luton. They’re all good and entertaining memories, and it’s nice to know – in general – when you sit down to watch a Chelsea game plenty will happen.

You will probably see a defensive howler, but odds are Palmer will do something extraordinary. It’s rarely boring.

 

Turning up in the big games

In games against the Big Six in the Premier League this season, Chelsea have won two, drawn four and lost two. It may not sound like a record to be bragging about, but they also had the better of the draws with Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City, and apart from the away defeats to Liverpool and United, have proven themselves to be more than a match for the sides they will soon hope to be vying with again for major honours.

Chelsea didn’t win any games against those teams last season, losing six of ten, and victory over Arsenal or Tottenham in the next couple of weeks would see Chelsea surpass the points accrued against the Big Six in either of Thomas Tuchel’s seasons at the helm.

Performances and results against the best Premier League teams have been a problem for a while – one Pochettino has already taken great strides to remedy.

 

Cup runs

The FA Cup run may well end on Saturday when Chelsea face Manchester City, though 120+ minutes of toil against Real Madrid on Wednesday may work in their favour – or not, if City are angry about *only* having two trophies now being on offer. They only have themselves to blame after that summer of transfers.

Anyway, both cup runs have featured impressive victories: 3-1 away at Villa; the 6-1 spanking of Middlesbrough. And the League Cup final, if we put Gary Neville’s frankly superficial and largely unfair “billion pound bottlejobs” line to one side, saw Chelsea play the better football before tiring in the face of “Klopp’s kids”, who came on to bring the average age of the team down closer to Chelsea’s.

Chelsea fans aren’t used to not winning stuff, and while Pochettino will probably end his first season potless, he’s at least taken them into the latter stages.

 

Player improvement

Pochettino was hired largely on the basis of his track record of improving young players. It’s happening slowly, but it is happening at Chelsea.

Palmer is the standout of course, miraculously going toe-to-toe with Erling Haaland in the race for the Golden Boot as he does ridiculous things with a football.

But Malo Gusto has been excellent in Reece James’ absence, and though many of their performances have been criticised this season, Jackson, Moises Caicedo, Mykhaylo Mudryk and Noni Madueke all appear to have benefited from time on the training pitch with Pochettino. He’s getting something going.

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