Mauricio Pochettino makes quick Nicolas Jackson U-turn after difficult Chelsea start
Mauricio Pochettino has identified a worrying Chelsea shortcoming that he fears teams may try to exploit during the club’s injury crisis. It is a final illustration of just how badly Chelsea’s £1billion recruitment policy has been tailored to the Premier League under Todd Boehly.
And it explains the decision to give teenager Lesley Ugochukwu a surprise debut against Bournemouth on Sunday. Pochettino’s start at Stamford Bridge has been hit by a lack of fit stars at his disposal with 12 of his admittedly bloated squad missing at the last count due to a number of mainly impact injuries that have been impossible to allow for.
A number of players who had been targeting a return after the international break are frustratingly not quite there yet and it left Pochettino with Ben Chilwell as his only senior player on the bench from the damaging 0–0 draw at the Vitality Stadium.
But it has left him short of resources in more ways than one – and means the traditional ways of building a platform at a new club have been denied to him. He has been forced to deal with the fact Chelsea simply don’t measure up at the moment at either end of the field.
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Pochettino has tried to mirror Thomas Tuchel in making shutting up shop his top priority. Two clean sheets in just five games and an average of one goal conceded per game is a basic sign of a manager who can come in and take care of the fundamentals – in a way that Graham Potter never managed to, for instance.
He had been brought in to rescue a team who had won only five times in the Premier League since October 16 and had kept just one clean sheet in their last 15 attempts.
So the upturn is a sign that Chelsea have at least appointed somebody capable of moulding a team ethic into this haphazard collection of individuals. A bigger return will take longer, however, due to the nature of the players recruited.
The lack of leaders at a club where the policy is to recruit young talent on long-term contracts is well documented. A lack of firepower is another clearly-identified problem.
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But after taking a weekend break at the start of the international week to recharge his batteries, he has expressed his concerns to his coaching staff about yet another area Chelsea are not up to the necessary level.
They have no height.
Many a manager has papered over a few cracks in the settling in period with a big focus on set-pieces and nicking some of those more prosaic, direct goals where they can be manufactured from nothing. That is not an option for Pochettino despite spending all that money on a team fit for the Premier League.
More than half of the players in his starting side against Bournemouth were under six foot – a figure that could have been higher but for the inclusion of 6ft 3in Ugochukwu in midfield.
Even the much-pilloried Kai Havertz was a 6ft 3in presence at set-pieces and with 6ft 2in Levi Colwill next to 5ft 11in Thiago Silva in the centre of defence, there is little height to deal with the modern aerial threat. Thankfully 6ft 4in Benoit Badiashile is one of those players closing in on a return.
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