EPL

Mauricio Pochettino: Chelsea players have learned to understand each other

By Sports Desk March 01, 2024

Mauricio Pochettino believes his Chelsea players have learned to “understand each other” after what he called the hardest week of his Stamford Bridge tenure.

The extra-time defeat to Liverpool in last Sunday’s Carabao Cup final denied his young side, who are 11th in the Premier League, the chance to lift silverware in what has so far been a trying season.

They were then given a scare by Championship side Leeds on Wednesday, requiring a last-minute goal from Conor Gallagher to win through to the FA Cup quarter-finals having fallen behind early and then been pegged back to 2-2 in the second half.

There has been much criticism of the nature of the loss at Wembley, coming after the team missed a host of chances during normal time and failed to win out against a Liverpool side beset by injury and featuring four inexperienced academy graduates by the end of the game.

Pochettino was asked whether the fallout from that defeat has given him his toughest spell in the job since taking over in July last year.

“Maybe yes,” he admitted. “We feel very disappointed. We had faith to win, we were so close. After 90 minutes we were the better side. The last 15, 20 minutes we created many big chances to score and win the game.

“Then the energy dropped and we didn’t keep the energy after 90 minutes. That’s why we lost the game. We’re all really disappointed because we put in too much energy to try to win. I think we deserved it.

“We met after the game (Sunday), in a different place away from Wembley. The players started to feel the good spirit. (They were) disappointed and (it was) painful.

“But Monday and Tuesday we were very open. All the players wanted to play. Some were tired with some problems, but everyone wanted to play against Leeds. That speaks highly about the squad.

“They are learning, to compete all together, to feel each other, to know how they behave in this level when it’s a final, with not too much experience.

“They start to understand each other, that’s the most important thing. After seven or eight months, we already know the profile of the players, how they behave.

“But it’s important for them to know each other, to know how they will react under high pressure and high stress.”

Defenders Thiago Silva and Marc Cucurella will be assessed ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Brentford at the Gtech Stadium.

Silva has missed the last five games with injury while Cucurella has not featured since early December.

However, Pochettino confirmed that a hamstring injury is likely to keep Christopher Nkunku out for around four weeks.

The 26-year-old had to wait until December to make his Chelsea debut after joining from RB Leipzig in the summer, having required surgery on a knee injury picked up in pre-season.

He has made only seven league appearances as he has struggled to attain match fitness, scoring twice.

“It’s bad luck to suffer again a setback,” said Pochettino. “It’s tough for a player that hasn’t played too much this season.

“He came from Germany with some problems. He was so good in pre-season. It’s a difficult season for him. It’s difficult to accept.

“I say it’s bad luck because I don’t have the information and knowledge about medicine to say why this type of injury happens.”

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