EPL

Mauricio Pochettino highlights the importance of desire to his Chelsea players

By Sports Desk August 24, 2023

Mauricio Pochettino has warned his Chelsea players that Luton will get the better of them at Stamford Bridge on Friday night if they fail to match the desire to win of Rob Edwards’ newly promoted side.

The manager recalled one of his early games in charge of Espanyol when he took his team to the Nou Camp and staged a famous victory against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona en route to masterminding the team’s La Liga survival.

That 2-1 win in February 2009, earned thanks to two goals from midfielder Ivan de la Pena as Espanyol ended a 27-year wait for a victory at the home of their city rivals, announced Pochettino’s arrival as a coach and was a springboard for dragging his new team out of the relegation zone to safety.

It went down as one of the shocks of the LaLiga season in Spain, particularly as Barcelona were en route to winning a domestic and European treble in what was Guardiola’s first season in charge.

Pochettino prepares his side to welcome Luton in rather less swashbuckling form, still seeking a first win under his tenure following a draw and a defeat in his first two games in charge and grappling with the problem of integrating a flux of summer recruits.

Defeat to the Hatters, who last won in the league at Stamford Bridge in 1986 and are yet to pick up a point in their debut Premier League season, would add to the noise surrounding Pochettino’s Chelsea rebuild, with the club having spent more than £350million on nine new signings so far this summer.

In contrast, Luton have paid out around £20m on transfers during the last 18 months, but the Chelsea manager was quick to remind his players of football’s unique propensity for springing upsets.

“It’s the beauty of football. In the pre-season I was talking with (Brighton manager) Roberto De Zerbi, he’s a good friend. I said ‘look, I was at Southampton and at Espanyol. Sometimes you face Real Madrid and you cannot complain, because I know how you feel when you face this type of team’.

“I was on one side, now I am on another. I understand. Sometimes people will say ‘you need to win 4-0 or 5-0’ before the start of the game. But it’s the beauty of football. At Espanyol we beat the dream team of Barcelona with Lionel Messi and Xavi and (Andres) Iniesta. It is similar (to) Luton and Chelsea. It’s the beauty of football.

“I was telling the players today in the meeting. We need to match the same will as the players of Luton. If we match all this, then we presume that we have better quality for us to win. But if not the game can be crazy. Maybe we can win or we can lose. That is football. It happens more here in the Premier League.

“It was the first time the bottom team had beaten the top team. It had never happened in the past. It was amazing, Espanyol in the Camp Nou. It was a little but lucky, we had some help also.

“There’s nothing to lose (for Luton). You go there, we were Espanyol and we said we don’t care about making a mistake. We need to be brave. (But) I don’t want to give the Luton coach all the strategies.

“It can only happen in football. You can see basketball, NFL, you see the quality of the players and you say (one team) it’s impossible, you cannot do it. In football you can shoot 30 times and not score, and they can shoot only once and score. In other sports, it’s impossible.

“Football is about belief, being together and (showing) fight, and then the quality that you have, if you match this, it’s about the players. If you don’t match this, the game is going to be over.”

It was near the end of the transfer window last season that former manager Thomas Tuchel talked of there being “a curse” on Chelsea’s number nine shirt, such has been the club’s lack of success with strikers in recent seasons.

Pochettino acknowledged that the door may not be fully closed on Romelu Lukaku’s future at Stamford Bridge if a deal cannot be reached to sell him before the end of the window, although the player is eager to leave and unlikely to prove the answer to the team’s goalscoring woes unless his relationship with the club improves.

The manager said the club remain in the market for another attacking option but only if a player of the hight profile becomes available.

Summer signing Christopher Nkunku is out until December and the number nine shirt is currently not assigned.

“I didn’t hear about the curse,” said Pochettino. “We need to do something to try to change the energy. I’ll ask the kitman to bring all the number nine shirts and we’ll do some cleaning, energetic thing.

“If we bring a new striker I’ll be sure he gets the number nine to try and change the feeling that this number is not welcome.”

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