Pochettino and Chelsea face fire and doubts at Man City before League Cup final

AP , Thursday 15 Feb 2024

Mauricio Pochettino is just over a week away from his first final as Chelsea manager and maybe his first trophy in English soccer.

Chelsea s Argentinian head coach Mauricio Pochettino looks on ahead of kick-off in the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea at Selhurst Park in south London on February 12, 2024. AFP


The League Cup final date with Liverpool at Wembley might as well be next year, though, considering the weight on Pochettino to turn around Chelsea's form in the Premier League.

There's not likely to be any relief this Saturday when he takes Chelsea to defending champion Manchester City.

Notwithstanding the comeback win over Crystal Palace last Monday, Chelsea's recent heavy defeats to Liverpool and Wolves have underlined its struggle in the league. That's a concern for a club of Chelsea's standing, 13 points out of the Champions League qualifying places. The 2021 champion looks set to miss the competition for a second straight season.

That is not good enough for a club that has spent more than $1 billion on players in the last two years under American owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital. And it wasn't what was expected when Pochettino was hired at the end of last season.

He and Chelsea could do without the buildup to the League Cup final being dominated by more questions about his position if his team on Saturday suffers a third defeat in its last four league games.

The potential for more pain is high at Etihad Stadium.

City is beginning to show the form that won it an historic treble last season in the league, Champions League and FA Cup. A 3-1 win against Copenhagen on Tuesday was an 11th straight victory in all competitions and extended an unbeaten run that dates to early December.

City is aiming to become the first team to win four Premier Leagues in a row and sits two points behind first-placed Liverpool with a game in hand.

Chelsea seems a long way off challenging at the summit of English and European soccer after a turbulent period under Boehly and Clearlake Capital. Despite the huge expenditure on players, the squad looks unbalanced and has not played consistently.

Yet the performances in the League Cup and FA Cup — where Chelsea is also going strong —provide hope, and a trophy would be something for the Argentine coach to build on.

In five years at Tottenham, he transformed the London club into trophy challengers and reached the Champions League final in 2019 and League Cup final in 2015.

His failure to get a team over the line wasn't addressed until he led Paris Saint-Germain to the French league title, but he still returned to England with points to prove.

Pochettino came in after Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter were fired in the first season under Boehly and Clearlake Capital. Given that level of upheaval, it was reasonable to think Pochettino would be given time to make his mark at Stamford Bridge.

But time is a rare commodity in top-flight soccer, not least at Chelsea.

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