Pochettino gives update on how Chelsea can beat Tottenham with three new players
The biggest test of Mauricio Pochettino’s time at Chelsea is nigh. After being pitted against Liverpool on the opening day most imagined that this clash would take that honour for quite some time but then came the recent meeting with Arsenal.
As it turned out these fixtures have brought the two most positive results of a season that has so far failed to ignite for Chelsea. The table has them 12th, exactly where they finished last year, and on course to only score a few more than the 38 they managed in 38 games last season as well. Underlying numbers tell a different story but when you’re losing 2-0 at home to Brentford it’s hard for many to trust the process, let alone the xG.
This alone underpins the negative feeling even though chance creation is high, possession is high and actually meaningful, the team is younger and largely appears more hungry than the group from last season. What is actually happening on the pitch is still in the looming, unescapable shadow of 2022/23 though.
That is the challenge Pochettino has to overcome every week because there is only a tiny sample size to show what he and his team are capable of and when it comes to what to expect it is hard to predict. However, it is the blue shirts and feeling of learned helplessness that Stamford Bridge encapsulates that leaves many thinking nothing has changed even though everything has.
Playing Tottenham doesn’t help this. It’s meant to be Three Point Lane – it still is to some extent but no longer for Chelsea, just for Ange Postecoglou – but there is a sense of fear, not expectation heading into the game on Monday. Pochettino is excited to be visiting a club that holds better memories for him, a fact that many aren’t grasping due to the divine right of Chelsea, but the real narrative here is just how big of a test this is for Chelsea.
Arsenal were shrugged aside for 75 minutes before an implosion cost what would have been a huge win, now it’s to north London and things could get messy. Chelsea fans don’t reflect well on managers that lose to Tottenham, let alone Tottenham sympathisers that lose to Tottenham.
It’s the acid test of mentality and quality that Pochettino will face on Monday even with Manchester City on the horizon. It’s not a game that could cost him a job but it might do deeper damage if things don’t go well. For this reason there is a pressure to get things right that is simply unignorable.
Here, football.london takes a look at three ways that Pochettino can achieve his goal.
Reece of the Rovers
As Spurs manager Pochettino put the Lilywhites on the map, effectively. They had a shocking record against the Blues but that evened out a bit during his five years at the club. He won five of the 14 meetings between the two teams, drawing another two and having a decent enough time of it with some standout showings.
Now he’s on the backfoot again with Postecoglou’s title fighters coming in as clear favourites and in top form. In matches like this there is a need to turn to quality and relative experience given the age of the squad. Only one of the 11 that started against Brentford has played in a game for Chelsea where they have beaten Tottenham, for example.
For this reason it is imperative that Reece James returns if he’s fit. Sixty minutes of James from the start is better than 30 minutes from the bench at the end, especially if it can help get the team into a position of strength. It’s hard to imagine him playing the full 90 but his addition in recent weeks looks to have been building towards this and it’s really non-negotiable that he has a part to play.
Two dynamic, front-foot and heavy pressing coaches going head-to-head, this could be electric. Postecoglou is not going to back down, he didn’t against Arsenal, Liverpool or Manchester United and he’s hardly going to be intimidated by a team that has scored 13 goals in 10 games.
Pochettino won’t either though and showed that he has the ability to balance pressing and off-ball discipline together in the game with Arsenal. On that occasion it was a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2 shape that did the business and it would be wise to have something similar here.
With Conor Gallagher and Cole Palmer the head of a pressing duo it allows for space that can be patrolled by Moises Caicedo behind him and Enzo Fernandez there to pick up the pieces. Spurs tend to go with a double pivot themselves but James Maddison also acts as the left side of a three when needed and it will be the winner of this battle that gets a foothold in the game.
The entire selection here is essential for Chelsea but it is Gallagher in-particular that might find himself camped on Maddison’s toes a bit like Ander Herrera following Eden Hazard at Old Trafford.
Find the finish
It goes without saying but Chelsea cannot be as profligate against Spurs as they have been all season. Relinquishing chances in big games is a sin and it really has cost Chelsea so much.
Only Everton have underperformed their xG by more than Chelsea’s -6.23, Tottenham have overperformed so far. It is the fine margins and with Son Heung-Min and Maddison there are two clinical beats ready to punish the Blues. Opportunities against Liverpool and Arsenal went astray and so did an extra four points that would have put Pochettino’s men within touching distance of their top four rivals.
With the midfield three in place and the 4-2-2-2 press there’s no room for Nicolas Jackson it would seem but Cole Palmer is there to pick up the slack and will hope to find himself in the goals again. He is yet to score from open play since arriving but couldn’t ask for a better time to change that here.