Football Digest: Nkunku’s Chelsea arrival poses question over tactics
Chelsea head coach Mauricio Pochettino has joked Christopher Nkunku lied to him about whether he could return from injury after the international break as the £60million signing prepares to return. Nkunku is still yet to make his competitive debut for the club after injuring his knee just days before the start of the Premier League season, and Pochettino revealed in a private chat between the pair that Nkunku gave him an incorrect estimate of when he would be fit again.
The 25-year-old has faced a frustrating wait to make his Blues bow after impressing in pre-season, only to suffer a knee problem in preparing for their clash against Liverpool. He underwent minor surgery to ensure the issue does not occur again in the future, but that meant a three-month wait on the sidelines.
The west London side have struggled without the French forward, who bagged four goals in as many games on their pre-season tour of the USA, and they were forced to change their formation to cope with his absence.
Pochettino has now revealed Nkunku’s return to action is close, although the Argentinian claimed he was misled by the former RB Leipzig attacker after believing he would be fit to face Newcastle after the international break.
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“We had some conversation and he [Nkunku] said to me ‘Coach, I want to be ready for after international break for Newcastle’,” Pochettino said in his press conference on Friday. I asked him yesterday [Thursday] and he said ‘hmmm’, and I said ‘you are a liar!’ He said ‘No I am not!’
“He is close and he is doing really well. We are happy with him. Romeo Lavia is also close. They trained today on the pitch. Hopefully they’ll be involved with the team next week.”
Nkunku has been posting videos and images from the gym for several weeks now, specifically showing he is trying to improve the strength in his knee to avoid another setback. Lavia, who arrived in a £58m deal from Southampton on deadline day, is another player yet to make his debut after being plagued by fitness issues and an ankle problem.
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For the time being, Pochettino has to deal without both players as he navigates a difficult home game against Manchester City on Sunday. The Argentinian still has five players out when including Nkunku and Lavia, and the 51-year-old is also having to protect certain members of the squad.
Chelsea are also taking no chances with Reece James after England boss Gareth Southgate claimed the right-back had turned down his international call-up to concentrate on improving his fitness.
And Pochettino disagreed with Southgate’s comment that the Blues captain had made the decision on his own, insisting Chelsea’s medical team were given the authority to make the decision.
“[It’s] never the decision of the player. It’s about [how] to assess. The medical, sport science, coaching staff take the decisions, not the player,” he added. “He’s desperate to go the national team. He wanted to go. But we take the best decision for him.”
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