Good News as Pochettino could welcome back five key players against Arsenal; Here are the players
Can an international break come both at the exact right time and the exact wrong one? It seems so.
Chelsea, who entered the last break on the back of a defeat to Nottingham Forest and with just four points from four games, five goals and a dysfunctional squad in its infancy, have ended this period of games on a high. It didn’t always look like this spell of positivity would come though.
Shortly after the defeat to Forest they were only able to draw with Bournemouth and then made it three consecutive goalless matches in a row with a loss to Aston Villa. The boos drew in, outside pressure on Mauricio Pochettino built and serious questions of everyone and everything at the club were raised.
Not that three wins on the bounce completely resolves the underlying issues and uncertainties, but it’s much better that way. Chelsea are now slowly climbing the table and breaking unwanted streaks that have been set in the past 12 months. This has been the best week for the club since March and before that it was October 2022.
It is, then, with this smile and casual wave that Chelsea’s squad, or most of it, breaks up for international duty. Just that little bit more settled and reassured of what has been and what is to come, Mauricio Pochettino can sit back that little bit further in his chair for the next two weeks.
But would he rather that games kept coming? After all, when there’s a patch of form and a settled squad the last thing needed is for it all to be scattered across the world. It took long enough and was surely sleepless nights worth of effort and energy to get even to this point, it feels a slight waste to see it put on the backburner.
Pochettino will need to bring together his pawns over the break, because there are plenty still at Cobham due to injury and form, and assimilate them with the returners in around 10 days time before the biggest test of the season so far. Chelsea, unlike last time, can’t afford a slow start.
The upcoming fixtures include Brentford, Manchester City, Tottenham, Newcastle and Brighton as well as whatever threat Manchester United claim to pose. If Chelsea are caught in the traps once more then it might prove to be an early case of nightmare before Christmas.
There are factors here that indicate things might be okay though. Arsenal don’t look as strong as they did last season despite the lofty table position, City are creaking but will have Rodri back and some Pep Guardiola fire in their bellies. Brentford haven’t won since the second weekend of the season and Brighton are struggling so far to balance domestic and continental competitions. Newcastle look ready for the European battle but for all the talk of Chelsea crisis are only two points ahead.
That’s the positive spin, anyway. Chelsea haven’t beaten a genuinely good league rival in absolutely ages. They got one over Newcastle in March 2022 but that was before the Saudi money had really trickled down properly, before that it was probably Tottenham in January of the same year but even then it was a dysfunctional Antonio Conte side that came to Stamford Bridge.
When it comes to Arsenal, who will be full of beans and joy after ending their losing streak against City, Chelsea’s home form against them barely beggars belief. It isn’t since 2018 and Mauricio Sarri that the Blues last won a home game against their London rivals and the run run of defeats is now up to three.
This game will be a test in a completely different way though but luckily for Pochettino even if he can’t rely on those that are away from the club coming back fully fit – all eyes will be on Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez and their return journeys from South America – then there are those that he should be able to call upon.
Reece James would likely have been ready to play at Turf Moor had he not been suspended. “I think he was training with the group and he is suspended for tomorrow [vs Burnley],” Pochettino said on Friday. “I think yes [he will be back soon], we are really happy with his recovery and, after his injury, he is doing well.”
The 23-year-old has still only played in one game this season but is one of the very few players in this side that has tasted victory against Arsenal for Chelsea. He could be back in the starting XI straight away but if not then Malo Gusto will also be eligible having played out all of his three-game ban as well following the red card against Aston Villa.
That is immediately two players Pochettino hasn’t been able to count on in recent weeks whilst Benoit Badiashile could join them. The Frenchman is yet to play this season after suffering a setback in a knock picked up towards the end of last term. He is now back in partial team training and will have the fortnight off to continue taking positive steps towards getting back on the pitch.
Carney Chukwuemeka is back in the matchday squad once more but hasn’t played since the second game of the season against West Ham, he will be like a new signing effectively. Trevoh Chalobah is in the camp of players that haven’t played under Pochettino as well and is also getting closer, there’s a chance he comes back against the Gunners.
The big one, though, is Christopher Nkunku. He is still out with the knee injury that effectively blunted the season before it had begun. This game comes at least four weeks too soon for him and any gametime before the new year would be a boost for the club.
However, Nkunku has posted a video of himself ramping up recovery work in the gym as well as kicking a ball. It’s likely to be a big uplift for the confidence and vibes in the squad as he approaches a gradual return to training. For Pochettino, though, there are other things to work on outside of his attacking star during the break.
“To improve players, try to recover players from injury in two weeks, we’re going to spend working in the training ground,” he admitted. “Of course different mood from the last time, last month. With a victory, it is much better. I think pushing, keep pushing and working hard to try and be better.”
Arsenal will certainly be a new level for Chelsea to try and match but with a group of players all looking to get back for the same fixture, it couldn’t have come at a better time.