Mauricio Pochettino is set to become the fifth man to manage Chelsea during the year-long ownership of Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital. The former Tottenham Hotspur manager will follow Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and temporary appointments Bruno Saltor and Frank Lampard into the hottest seat in football at the end of the season.
Given that Chelsea are on course for their worst league finish since 1996, there is certainly work to be done. After losing both domestic cup finals last season they were eliminated at the third round stage of the FA Cup and Carabao Cup this campaign. Chelsea were well beaten in the quarter-finals of the Champions League too, capping a miserable season.
So how does Pochettino revive the sleeping giant? Here is a list of the most pressing concerns in the Argentinian’s in-tray when he arrives at Stamford Bridge.
Clear The Corridor
It was reported at the time of Graham Potter’s sacking that the club had so many players on the books that some were changing in the corridor. Whether a handy metaphor or a genuine logistic reality, Chelsea’s squad is ridiculously bloated.
Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital have signed off on the acquisition of seventeen first team players since taking over the club from Roman Abramovich. While transfer-obsessed social media fans were initially in heaven, even the most deal-happy supporters now realise this was a mistake. The reality is that many of this players simply do not fit.
The same can be said for members of the squad that were already in place under the Abramovich regime. Pochettino needs to complete a full root and branch review of the Chelsea squad and waste no time in sorting them into “Keep” and “Sell” piles.
Style It Out
The attraction to hiring someone like Pochettino is the fact he preaches a defined style of football. Where once such things were seen as an indulgence, now they are a necessity. Recent league champions Manchester City and Liverpool are defined by the specific approaches of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp respectively. Even Chelsea’s last league title was won under the watchful eye of Antonio Conte and the organised, build-from-the-back style he espouses.
‘Poch’ must implement the high-pressing, fitness-first style of energetic football he is known for. The transition towards this way of playing can also help separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to trimming the squad. Pochettino is known to favour double sessions on the training pitch to get his players singing off the same hymn sheet tactically. Not every player will buy into the extreme conditioning needed for this style of play. Rid yourself of the ones that don’t measure up and that corridor starts to look a little more empty.
Call An Old Friend
Romelu Lukaku is out on loan at Inter Milan. Joao Felix is on loan from Atletico Madrid. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is declining and looks likely to leave. Kai Havertz and Raheem Sterling are moonlighting temporary solutions that never really solved anything. David Datro Fofana is one for the future. It is safe to say Chelsea are not exactly blessed with strikers in their prime.
Tottenham Hotspur, for all their problems, are blessed with a striker still at the peak of his powers. Harry Kane is a striker Pochettino knows well from their shared time at Spurs together. The England captain is reportedly open to a move this summer. Meanwhile, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will surely be keen to cash in before Kane’s contract expires in summer 2024.
Chelsea are likely to face competition for his signature, with Manchester United in particular thought to be circling the striker. But this is a crucial purchase for Chelsea. Given their extreme spending so far, we wouldn’t advocate widespread rebuilding in the summer. But Kane as the cherry on top of a handpicked squad from the very best of the players who are there now would serve Pochettino well.
Chelsea as a club has got way out of hand. This is not the sort of situation where gentle cajoling will bring it back into line. In that regard, it is similar to the job he took on at Spurs a decade ago. Pochettino walked into a club in flux back then, just as he will in June.
Walking into Tottenham, Pochettino worked quickly and decisively to start moulding the club in his image. Players like Emmanuel Adebayor, Aaron Lennon and Nabil Bentaleb were quickly identified as not fitting his vision for the side. As brutal as it was on a group of solid, decorated pros, he had them training away from the first team.
There was no room for sentiment as the Argentine sought to build the club in his image. Then as now, Spurs lacked a real identity before forming a symbiotic one with its new manager. The rudderless Chelsea should look to head the same way, even if it means a few pissed off veterans training with the kids.
Back Off, Boehly
This ruthlessness should also be used to manage upwards. Boehly has sought to make himself a key character in Chelsea’s story since becoming the face of the takeover last year. But the American has put his foot in it more often than a hokey-cokey participant since assuming control of the club.
Whether suggesting oh-so-American “North vs South” all-star games, appointing Watford amounts of managers or buying players like an over-sugared infant playing FIFA, it has been a 12 months to forget. Pochettino must demand that his boss keeps his distance and allows the football department to be handled by football people. Chelsea’s future, and the success of his reign, depends on it.
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