Breaking news – Mauricio Pochettino has four Chelsea decisions left after Cole Palmer and Raheem Sterling demand
Mauricio Pochettino is soon to have what is often described as ‘every manager’s dream’ at Chelsea. It’s not a boatload of cash; he already has that and has made use of it, but it’s something that has very much come about because of the lavish spending spree from Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.
With a squad piled high, even though you wouldn’t know it all the time due to a plague of injuries and ill-timed suspensions, the head coach has at least two players for every position. Just how ready some of the players across the squad are to compete at the top end of the Premier League with the potential to be in Europe is unknown at this stage.
What is clear is that Pochettino will soon have a big call on his hands. Fitness permitting he has been able to settle on a favoured Chelsea side so far, something that neither Thomas Tuchel or Graham Potter were able to do last season with an influx of players.
It is a common trope of Pochettino, perhaps to his expense sometimes with a build-up of fatigue and pressure on players, that he rotates so little. What it does do is help to ensure relationships form between players and that has been evident with Chelsea so far this season even if it hasn’t brought the results.
But very soon this will all be in the air. Chelsea’s midfield and attack has started to click with Conor Gallagher, Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo clicking into true mitochondrial form as the powerhouse and engine room of the team. Between Gallagher and Fernandez one of the trio has been tasked with attacking duties behind the striker – mostly Nicolas Jackson so far. That might have to change.
Chelsea have such depth in the attacking areas – once again when everyone is fit – that there are two players to fill each spot without taking the midfield help into account. In a standard 4-2-3-1 shape Pochettino on paper can call on Mykhailo Mudryk and Raheem Sterling from the left, Christopher Nkunku and Carney Chukwuemeka in the centre, Noni Madueke and Cole Palmer on the right and then Jackson with Armando Broja as the focal point.
Between that eight-strong group there is plenty of room for flexibility and movement, most of them can cover at least two positions if not more. But to even get to this point there needs to be one less midfielder chosen. How to balance this is the next question.
So far Pochettino’s choices have hinged on defensive duties, injuries and Madueke’s discipline trouble – he has already been the biggest loser to the no-tinkering policy and faces a genuine battle to play again with Palmer’s slick start to life in blue. In recent weeks the tide has changed yet again.
Pochettino initially favoured Nkunku, Chukwuemeka and Ian Maatsen in pre-season. That shifted to Ben Chilwell out of position on the left, Chukwuemeka and Sterling in the opening weeks before the Gallagher-Fernandez movement was needed. In recent weeks, and for the winning run, it has been Palmer and Mudryk benefitting but Sterling stood out against Burnley.
Is this competition really a manager’s dream or is it actually a bit of a nightmarish puzzle? Depth is good but lack of gametime and fluidity isn’t. Former defender Marcel Desailly thinks that it’s Palmer who might have to take the hit in order for things to even out.
The Frenchman told Gambling Zone: “I wouldn’t say Mudryk should be dropped. He’s young and he has a great foundation. He can identify the tempo and knows when to go, when to stay, and when to run.
“I believe Mudyrk should be one of the main names on the team sheet. I don’t know what he’s like in training, but he’s a key player for Pochettino – more so than Palmer.” In a perfect scenario they would maybe both play but that means leaving out Sterling and he did just do the typical ‘see, told you I’m good Gareth’ thing that he does when not selected by England.
Sterling is the most senior of the attackers and the second-oldest player in the squad. His tally of career league goals is not only double that of the rest of the squad combined but even an inconsistent version of the 28-year-old is the club’s top contributor so far this season.
He is a trusted member of the group and clearly admired by Pochettino, he also has the dangling carrot of Euro 2024 to think about as he looks to make an impression ahead of the major tournament in Germany next summer. Having not been included in the two squads selected by Southgate this season there is work to be done but Glenn Johnson believes that he’ll be involved when push comes to shove for the Three Lions.
The former right-back told BetFred: “Yes, I think he will. Raz is a fantastic player, but sometimes he can suffer from a lack of confidence every now and then. When he gets back to basics and starts driving at defenders, then you’re getting the old Raheem back.
“To see him getting back on the scoresheet was a nice response to not being called up to the England squad and it’s going to give Gareth [Southgate] something to think about. All of England’s fans will want to see Raheem on the plane, but he’s going to have to bounce back and find some form to be a part of that.”
Sterling, then, isn’t going to be too keen on not being at the front of his club manager’s mind when it comes to game time. Adding this into the mix only complicates matters further and leaves yet another aspect to the overall picture being created. Whether Pochettino sticks with his guns and the rotation policy that has been the case throughout his managerial career or twists that in light of new circumstances remains to be seen.