The latest round of Premier League fixtures brings the respective battles at both ends of the table into sharp focus.

Leaders Arsenal go head-to-head with surprise package Aston Villa and reigning champions Manchester City attempt to end a rare barren period at the top, while, towards the foot, Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cooper finds himself in the limelight for the wrong reasons.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the talking points surrounding the weekend’s games.

Familiar face

Mikel Arteta may not be pitch-side at Aston Villa on Saturday as he serves a touchline ban, but another Spaniard who is well known to Arsenal will be. Unai Emery was in charge at the Emirates Stadium between May 2018 and November 2019, when the Gunners dispensed with his services after a disappointing run of results. Emery returned to England in October last year and has since guided Villa into the top three, just four points adrift of his former employers at the top of the table and a genuine threat on home soil.

Timing is everything

 

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When Luton secured their promotion to the Premier League via last season’s Sky Bet Championship play-off final, their fans were able to dream of the days when English football’s aristocrats would head for Kenilworth Road. They could be forgiven for watching through their fingers when Manchester City make the trip on Sunday. City, for the first time in seven years, have not won in four league games, but the Hatters have managed only two top-flight victories all season. Few will give the hosts much chance of improving on that statistic this weekend.

Away the lads

 

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Newcastle travel to Tottenham on Sunday desperately searching for form away from St James’ Park. The Magpies, who won eight times on the road last season as they surged to a fourth-place finish, have collected three points away from Tyneside only once in seven attempts so far this season, courtesy of an 8-0 drubbing of Sheffield United. Spurs have lost their last three games on their own pitch to Chelsea, Aston Villa and West Ham. Something seemingly has to give.

Everton back in business

Everton’s response to the 10-point penalty which has left them fighting for their top-flight lives has been hugely impressive. Thursday night’s 3-0 victory over Newcastle – their fourth in six league outings – lifted them out of the bottom three and proved the perfect preparation for Chelsea’s visit to Goodison Park on Sunday. The Blues currently lie in 10th place with 19 points, one fewer than the total the Toffees would have had but for their punishment.

Cooper over a barrel?

Spare a thought for Nottingham Forest boss Steve Cooper. He has bullishly played down suggestions he could be out of a job if Forest lose a fifth successive league game when they head for Wolves on Saturday. The Welshman guided the club back into the Premier League at the end of the 2021-22 campaign and kept them there last season with four points to spare, the same margin they currently enjoy over the bottom three.

Erik ten Hag has revealed he was warned not to become Manchester United manager because it was deemed an “impossible” job.

The 53-year-old Dutchman moved to Old Trafford from Ajax in 2022 but has come under pressure during his second season in the role.

United sit sixth in the Premier League table following Wednesday evening’s 2-1 win over Chelsea, nine points behind leaders Arsenal, while they have struggled in Europe.

“Everyone was telling me, ‘you can’t succeed in that job’,” Ten Hag told the United We Stand fanzine.

“They said it was impossible. Me? I wanted the challenge.

“I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it was such a great club with such a great fanbase.

“People love Manchester United, or they are against Manchester United. I like clubs like this. Ajax was like this.”

Ten Hag ended the club’s six-year wait for silverware by lifting the Carabao Cup in February before securing a third-placed league finish.

However, his side are off the pace this term following six defeats from 15 league games, in addition to sitting bottom of their Champions League group with one match – at home to Bayern Munich next week – remaining.

Scott McTominay says Manchester United are focused on consistency rather than their current place in the pecking order after Erik ten Hag’s under-fire side moved within three points of Manchester City.

This has been a challenging, and at times chastening, second season in the hotseat for the Dutchman, who won the Carabao Cup and finished third in the Premier League during a promising first campaign.

United also lost the FA Cup final to a City side that went on to match their neighbours’ historic 1999 treble triumph by lifting the Champions League trophy after beating Inter Milan.

Last season’s dominance and October’s 3-0 Old Trafford loss to Pep Guardiola’s men highlighted the gap in quality, yet the stumbling Red Devils are now within touching distance of their rivals.

 

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City fell to a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa as United bounced back from the lifeless loss to Newcastle by beating Chelsea 2-1 thanks to McTominay’s brace, moving them within three points of their fourth-placed neighbours.

 

When that was pointed out to the matchwinner, along with the bunched-up standings, McTominay said: “We barely pay attention to that in terms of we just concentrate on how we’re playing and if the style of football that we’re playing is how the manager wants.

“In games like tonight it was and against Newcastle it wasn’t, so we have to find that balance between us where we try and do that every single week.

“I felt like that was a game where we had to come out and show to the fans that we have full focus on this game, we want to play well and give a reaction.

“It has to be like that every week, though, which is something that (when) I was in the dressing room… there was players speaking about it.

“(It) can’t just be one game where we need to show a reaction. It has to come out and show that every week.”

McTominay said he was grateful to the United fans for “sticking with us throughout anything that goes on at this football club” after another difficult few days.

Reports over some player unhappiness with Ten Hag emerged after the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle, which the Scotland international knows saw them fall well short of what is required.

“We know the fans are extremely demanding and so are we as players, so that’s what we expect,” the six-goal midfielder told MUTV.

“Going back to the game against Newcastle, we know that was nowhere near good enough and that’s still stinging us.

“We can’t have them anomalies where we go somewhere and we don’t play as well as what we can, and maybe not show as much fight as what we could as well.

“But tonight is a building block and something that we can take step by step without getting too carried away.”

 

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United now refocus on Saturday’s home match against Bournemouth, with stuttering Chelsea heading to Everton the following day.

 

Mauricio Pochettino’s men were second best for large parts at Old Trafford but could have scored more than Cole Palmer’s intelligent equaliser.

Chelsea captain Reece James, who came off the bench at half-time, said: “We go out there wanting to win but it’s still a young squad and we are learning game by game.

“At the moment it’s quite tough, but we know we have the capabilities to win every game.

“We need to go back to the drawing board and review the game, and then prepare for Everton. We need to prepare right and start climbing the table.”

Erik ten Hag dismissed any talk of Manchester United’s season being in crisis as he stressed “we are going in the right direction” following the 2-1 win over Chelsea.

United went into the contest at Old Trafford on the back of Saturday’s 1-0 loss at Newcastle, their 10th defeat in all competitions this term.

After Bruno Fernandes saw an early penalty saved by Robert Sanchez, a Scott McTominay brace, either side of Cole Palmer’s equaliser, secured United a victory that took them up to sixth in the Premier League table, three points behind fourth-placed defending champions Manchester City.

When asked at his post-match press conference what that said to him about a season that has felt like it has been in crisis, United boss Ten Hag said: “Crisis? Not for us.

“We keep calm, look at the process where we know where we have to build. We are going in the right direction.

“We don’t get distracted (by) criticism around us, but we are very critical on ourselves. We are not quickly satisfied and happy, we always want to do better. We have to improve a lot if we want to be successful – but this team is capable of being successful.”

There had been some reports ahead of the game that Ten Hag had lost the confidence of some of his players.

That led to United banning four media outlets for Tuesday’s pre-match press conference, with the club saying the action was taken for not “contacting us first to give us the opportunity to comment, challenge or contextualise.”

Ten Hag added: “Last week we played three games (a 3-0 win at Everton, 3-3 draw at Galatasaray and the Newcastle match). Two times we played good, and then one bad performance.

“But you see this team is in a good direction. I know sometimes you have a bad performance, but then still, you can get a result. That is the next step we have to make.

“But you see how we play, the style, so dominating the opponent, in and out of possession. That is the way I want to play. I was very pleased, it was very enjoyable how the team played.”

Scott McTominay’s brace sealed a much-needed victory for Manchester United and their under-fire manager Erik ten Hag against Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea.

Wednesday’s Old Trafford encounter pitted together a pair of Premier League giants going through growing pains as they seek to become contenders again.

United were under extra pressure heading into the match following reports of player unhappiness with Ten Hag, whose side reacted with a spirited 2-1 victory.

McTominay was the hero as the Dutchman’s side deservedly overcame the Blues, whose manager Pochettino was considered his main rival for the United post when he was appointed.

The homegrown midfielder’s first goal came midway through a first half that began with Robert Sanchez saving a Bruno Fernandes penalty and ended with a fine leveller from former Manchester City midfielder Cole Palmer.

McTominay put the hosts back ahead with a powerful header and Chelsea substitute Armando Broja saw a late header hit the post as United bounced back from Saturday’s lifeless loss at Newcastle.

Ten Hag made four alterations from St James’ Park – with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial among those dropping to the bench – and was rewarded with a strong start.

Chelsea goalkeeper Sanchez did well to stop Rasmus Hojlund’s low early effort and produced another big save in the ninth minute.

Antony was caught by Enzo Fernandez when prodding the ball on, leading VAR David Coote to advise Chris Kavanagh to check the pitchside monitor.

The referee pointed to the spot after reviewing the incident, only for Fernandes to follow a stuttering run-up with a poor strike that Sanchez met with a strong hand down to his right.

Soon after Sofyan Amrabat was breathing a sigh of relief after Mykhailo Mudryk hit the foot of the post after his lax pass was cut out as play began to swing from end to end.

United’s defence was looking susceptible, but they were better than Chelsea in possession.

Sanchez denied Alejandro Garnacho and Antony before a close-range attempt from the latter was blocked, with the opening goal of this helter-skelter encounter arriving in the 19th minute.

Garnacho cut back for Harry Maguire to get away a shot that Marc Cucurella blocked, with McTominay controlling the loose ball and fizzing through skipper Levi Colwill’s legs and past Sanchez.

The Scotland international should have had a second in the 32nd minute, with Sanchez denying his six-yard header from Fernandes’ fine cross before stopping his follow-up.

But it was not all one-way traffic. Andre Onana spread himself well to stop Nicolas Jackson on the break, before the United goalkeeper watched Mudryk guide a low shot narrowly wide.

The Ukraine international should have done better there but helped the Blues equalise in the 45th minute, albeit Palmer deserves the credit instead of the man with the assist.

Palmer stretched to reach the ball, drove across the edge of the box under pressure from Victor Lindelof and made space to send a smart, low shot trickling back across into the far corner.

It was a gut punch nearly followed up moments into the second half after Mudryk’s corner was flicked on, with Jackson beating Diogo Dalot to head just over.

Garnacho bent just off target as United returned to the attack, with Antony’s effort taking a deflection wide for a corner that saw appeals for handball fall on deaf ears. The incident was reviewed by the VAR.

The hosts were in the ascendancy and Garnacho hooked a cross to the far post, where McTominay beat his man to head past Sanchez.

Colwill laid on the deck claiming a push that was checked by VAR but the goal was given the green light upon review.

United pushed for a quickfire third and McTominay mishit when presented with the chance for a hat-trick after Antony cut out a Sanchez ball.

Substitute Reece James got back to block Garnacho’s attempt from Onana’s long ball forwards, with the Argentina international going agonisingly close from turning in replacement Sergio Reguilon’s pass.

Chelsea made the home side sweat in the closing stages. There was a collective intake of breath when James went close to finding Fernandez and another when Broja’s header came back off the far post.

Mauricio Pochettino puts Chelsea’s ill-discipline down to the close-season change of rules with the Blues leading the Premier League for yellow cards this season.

Chelsea have amassed 47 yellow and three red cards, following the dismissal of Malo Gusto against Aston Villa in September and both Reece James and Conor Gallagher being sent off in their last two games.

Pochettino highlighted how the FA’s new rules in targeting petulance such as kicking the ball away or dissent is the reason behind his team’s poor record.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea’s clash with Manchester United on Wednesday, Pochettino said: “Today we were talking in the meeting and we showed the clips of the yellow cards. There are too many because they changed the rules this season.

“We touch and we put the ball from here to there, and that is a tic that we need to change.

“We were talking about Nicolas Jackson, the yellow card because of complaining to the referee. The opponent made a foul and didn’t receive a yellow card.

“But you complain about ‘why is that not a yellow card?’ And it’s ‘Oh, yellow card for you’. We receive like this.

“It’s difficult to understand this rule but now the referees want to apply it.”

Jackson’s seven bookings are the most in the league and that tally saw him sit out of the Blues’ 2-0 win over west London rivals Fulham in October.

Pochettino called for his players to be cleverer if they are to avoid picking up similar suspensions.

He added: “We need to be clever and improve in this area. We cannot be silly to repeat, repeat, repeat the same mistakes.

“When we play football, always if you made a foul, if the opponent came to take the ball quick, boom, you touch. Even when you play football with your friends, that happens. It’s difficult to change.”

The last time Pochettino faced Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag was when he was in charge of Spurs during their dramatic 3-2 Champions League semi-final victory over the Dutchman’s Ajax in 2019.

And the Chelsea manager noted that the match would have been painful for Ten Hag while it was one of his “best nights in football”.

He said: “Of course it was really painful, the situation, but sometimes when you are a coach there are things you cannot control. This is the beauty of football.

“He wasn’t on the pitch. People make you responsible of course. But you cannot change anything from outside. It was difficult.

“One of my best nights in football. For sure it was tough for him. But we all move on.

“For sure he has moved on and he is at a great club now. It’s going to be nice to meet him.”

Erik ten Hag told doubters to look at his record as the under-fire boss spoke with conviction about being the right man to help stumbling Manchester United fulfil their ambitions.

Having won the Carabao Cup, reached the FA Cup final and finished third in the Premier League during a promising first season in charge, things have gone awry during his second campaign.

Saturday evening’s lifeless 1-0 loss at Newcastle was their 10th defeat in just 21 matches in all competitions, leading criticism, scrutiny and pressure to mount on manager Ten Hag.

Reports emerged that the Dutchman had lost the confidence of some players, with concerns over style and tactics mentioned in stories that led to four media outlets being banned from Tuesday’s press conference.

United were furious not to have been given a right to reply to the reports that Ten Hag dismissed as he came out fighting and preaching about togetherness before hosting Chelsea.

“There will be always tough times in every journey,” the United manager said. “We are in the right direction.

“I know we will get there where we want to be. Because – see my record.

“Everywhere where I was, every season, I got my targets, so if we stick together, stick to the plan and the strategy, we will get where we want to be.”

Ten Hag managed Go Ahead Eagles, Bayern Munich II and Utrecht before flourishing at Ajax and earning his move to Manchester.

The 53-year-old won three league titles during his time in charge of the Dutch giants, who he led to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019.

Tottenham ended that unforgettable run and Ten Hag comes up against Mauricio Pochettino for the first time since then, and beating him to the United job, when Chelsea visit.

Asked ahead of Wednesday’s Old Trafford clash what the realistic timeframe is for getting United where they want to go, Ten Hag said: “First of all, I can’t say in this club we are waiting for two, three years.

“This club the aim is, the demand is and the standards should be that you win every game, so we go in every game with the aim.

“I demand of my team, my players to win every game. Doesn’t matter who the opponent is, and I will stick to that. That brought us last year very far.

“We were third in the league, in the FA Cup final – we could even have won this – and we won the Carabao Cup.

“That mentality I don’t want to change this because that will be a drop-off in culture.

“That means, yeah, there is a high standard on me, and me together with the team, so it’s also high standards on the players, and I don’t make compromises on that.”

United’s mentality has been in question as much as the group’s unity this term, yet Ten Hag believes he has the players’ full backing heading into a frantic festive period.

“Oh yeah, I never had the idea they don’t (back me) because I know they would have dropped me against Fulham or Burnley if it was the other situation,” the Red Devils boss said.

“If the situation was not right, if the environment was not right, and that’s not the case.”

It was an eye-catching comment from Ten Hag as he referred to crunch 1-0 wins at Burnley and Fulham that both came after a different chastening spells for the side.

United now need to avoid an 11th loss as the Blues visit on Wednesday as the manager looks to raise levels and “build on the foundations”.

“Of course negativity is never good,” Ten Hag added. “You have to take care it never kills the energy.

“But I don’t care because I know, and all the players know, we are the biggest club in the world, or one of the biggest clubs, then you know you get a lot of attention.

“You know then in the moment results are not going in your way and you’re not performing how you should, there’s coming criticism and you have to deal with that.

“We are together in that. There’s no way that you are alone there. You are together in that boat. We know that, so we will deal with it in togetherness.”

Kaleb Cooper said working on Manchester United’s pitch was a dream for him ahead of his favourite side’s meeting with Chelsea on Wednesday.

The 25-year-old farmer, who works alongside Jeremy Clarkson on the hit Amazon show ‘Clarkson’s Farm’, has been “adding the finishing touches” to the Old Trafford pitch ahead of the clash, which Amazon is broadcasting.

Amazon said Cooper had “swapped life on Diddly Squat for Stretford as he dons his wellies to ensure the hallowed turf of Old Trafford is pitch-perfect” to promote the fixture.

With Clarkson a Chelsea fan, Cooper said he knows he will not hear the end of it if things don’t go his way this week.

“I grew up dreaming of farming this pitch, it’s a long way from Chipping Norton to Manchester,” he said.

“I just hope it gives United the edge over Chelsea because I won’t hear the end of it on the farm from a certain someone if it doesn’t.”

Mauricio Pochettino believes Enzo Fernandez has the confidence to begin showing his best form for Chelsea after the World Cup winner netted his first Premier League goals against Brighton.

The 22-year-old headed in his team’s first after 17 minutes before adding a second from the penalty spot after the break, as the hosts weathered the loss of captain Conor Gallagher to a red card in the 45th minute to claim a 3-2 victory at Stamford Bridge.

It was a first win in six attempts in the Premier League against Roberto De Zerbi’s side and saw the Argentina international, who signed from Benfica for a then British record £107million in January, finally break his scoring duck in the league on his 31st appearance.

His influence has grown at the heart of Chelsea’s midfield, particularly since the arrival of Moises Caicedo in August, which has allowed him to take up more advanced positions.

Pochettino, who also saw defender Levi Colwill score his first for the club, predicted Fernandez’s first league goals will only accelerate his progress.

“It’s important that different players can score,” said the manager. “It was Enzo’s first and second in the Premier League, it’s important to build confidence.

“Players sometimes need one season, six months, 10 months to start to show their real quality. Why would it be different at Chelsea?

“So happy that different players can score. It’s a good thing for the team.”

The win was just Chelsea’s second at home in the league this season and their fourth of 2023, lifting them into the top half of the table following the previous weekend’s 4-1 rout by Newcastle.

The game finished amidst confusion as Brighton were awarded a penalty in the ninth minute of stoppage time by referee Craig Pawson after the ball struck Colwill in the face inside the box.

A pitch-side VAR check – the game’s second after Mykhailo Mudryk had won a spot-kick following a review – overturned the decision, but emotions boiled over with players of both sides squaring up to each other as the final whilst went.

“Football is emotional, no?” said Pochettino. “It’s normal, our reaction and the reaction from Brighton.

“You are playing for a lot of things. It’s really important there three points for us (or) one point for Brighton.

“There’s massive confusion at the end of the game. It was exciting, people were upset. That’s what happened when we were in the middle all together.

“You create this type of relationship where it becomes massive confusion.”

Mauricio Pochettino spoke of his pride after watching Chelsea cling on with 10 men to earn a battling 3-2 win against Brighton at Stamford Bridge.

Captain Conor Gallagher was sent off late in the first half with the hosts leading 2-1, leaving them facing an uphill battle to hold off a fightback from Roberto De Zerbi’s side.

Chelsea had looked to be heading in at half-time two goals to the good, Enzo Fernandez and Levi Colwill each heading in their first Premier League goals three minutes apart to open up a commanding lead but Brighton halved the deficit through Facundo Buonanotte before Gallagher was shown a second yellow card.

The visitors’ fightback was curtailed midway through the second half when Mykhailo Mudryk, in for Cole Palmer who had picked up a knock in training, raced through on goal and drew a foul from James Milner, a penalty awarded following a pitchside review and a second goal for Fernandez clipped home from 12 yards.

Brighton battled gamely against a determined Chelsea rearguard and a goal headed in by substitute Joao Pedro breathed life into the contest at the start of 10 minutes of stoppage time.

Then in the final seconds, referee Craig Pawson was called pitchside again to adjudicate on a possible handball inside the box against Colwill. This time the call was no penalty, and Chelsea saw out the win to banish memories of last weekend’s 4-1 defeat by Newcastle.

“It wasn’t a sending off,” said Pochettino. “That is my opinion. Maybe I am wrong. This type of period where you are building something, it always happens. We are a young team. I want to clarify – not we are young players, we are a young team.

“We need to improve, we need to learn. The Premier League is the best in the world. We have too many players that need to feel what it means to play in the Premier League. We were a little bit more aggressive after Newcastle where we didn’t show our real face.

“We wanted to play well, to be aggressive and show we care. I think the team was really good, I feel proud. After Newcastle it was tough, and a team like Brighton is always difficult to play.

“I am so proud of the players and the character that they showed. I told them at half-time, ‘it’s 2-1 to us, it’s a great opportunity for us – now we need to show that we are a team’.”

The win was the first in six attempts that Chelsea have managed against Brighton in the league, and was notable for a standout performance from Mudryk who has looked increasingly at home in west London this season after a difficult first six months.

Pochettino reiterated the need for young players like the Ukrainian to feel settled before they can be expected to produce on the pitch.

“It’s not only about building the way that you want to play, your philosophy on the pitch,” he said. “Before that, you need to belong to the team, you need to belong to the club, to settle yourself.

“You need to grow, need to get experience. Too many things before you can talk about playing from the back, or play with three or four offensive players, or with three or five at the back. That comes in after.”

Brighton boss De Zerbi reflected on a game he felt his team did not deserve to lose.

“It’s hard because I think we played much better than Chelsea,” he said. “We made three big mistakes, two set-pieces in the first half and we conceded the third goal in an incredible way.

“It was a clear penalty for them, but we can’t concede a counter-attack in that way (from) a corner for us. In that way we are young, but we need to be more focused in that situation and at set-pieces.”

Chelsea played the entirety of the second half with 10 men as they clung on to defeat Brighton 3-2 after a tense finale at Stamford Bridge.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side were already two up thanks to headers from Enzo Fernandez and Levi Colwill when Conor Gallagher was shown a second yellow card for fouling Billy Gilmour in stoppage time at the end of the first half.

Moments before Gallagher’s dismissal, Facundo Buonanotte had pulled Brighton back into it at 2-1 with swinging strike inside the post, and the stage looked set for a fightback by the visitors.

Instead, it was Chelsea that reasserted their charge, Fernandez converting from the spot midway through the second half after the excellent Mykhailo Mudryk had been fouled.

Joao Pedro came off the bench to head a goal back at the start of a lengthy period of added time, before Chelsea survived a penalty scare for a possible handball against Colwill with virtually the game’s final action.

This was a statement win from Pochettino’s team. Not only was it a first league victory in six attempts against Brighton, it came after their captain had been sent off after 45 minutes, and with arguably their best player this season,, Cole Palmer, starting the game on the bench, a knock sustained in training on Saturday meaning he was fit only to emerge once his team were 3-1 up.

The opening goal came after good work from Palmer’s replacement Mudryk, taking a high, looping pass down well with his chest and crossing cleverly to win a corner. From the resulting ball in, Benoit Badiashile showed balance and poise to take charge at the back post and hooked a ball into the six-yard box from which Fernandez rose to nod home his first Premier League goal.

Igor Julio needed to be alert with a sliding interception to prevent a certain goal for Nicolas Jackson, but after the defender had poked the ball behind for another corner Brighton were caught out again with a near identical routine.

This time it was Jackson keeping the move alive at the back post, arcing the ball back into middle and onto the head of Colwill, who despite a brave effort from Gilmour to hook the ball back from behind the line would not be denied his first Chelsea goal.

Mudryk looked as confident as he has been in Chelsea blue and nearly made it three before half-time, beating Joel Veltman on the turn with a dazzling first touch in midfield and driving at the heart of Brighton, only to see his fizzing 30-yard drive fly inches past the post.

Instead it was Brighton in whose favour the game turned before the break. First, the coolest of strikes from Buonanotte halved the arrears, the Argentinean lashing the ball inside the far post with his left foot after Simon Adingra and Adam Lallana had combined to pick him out.

Then in stoppage time at the end of the half, a more serious setback for Pochettino, his captain Gallagher shown a second yellow card for sliding in late on Gilmour, and Chelsea would play the second 45 minutes with 10 men.

Brighton emerged determined to make their numerical advantage count. Adingra was a growing threat playing high on the left, most notably in the 55th minute when he crossed for Lallana who took a touch and hooked narrowly wide.

Roberto De Zerbi gambled, making four substitutions in one swoop, whilst Pochettino looked to his depleted bench and prepared Palmer.

Yet before Chelsea’s appointed penalty taker could take to the pitch, the brilliant Mudryk won a spot-kick, outpacing the recently arrived James Milner before being shouldered to the ground. A pitchside VAR check was required for referee Craig Pawson to make the call, and Fernandez showed his own credentials from 12 yards for 3-1.

Ten minutes of stoppage time had been announced by the time substitute Pedro rose to glance a header across goal and in at the far post to give Brighton hope.

Then at the death, Pawson was called pitchside once more to adjudicate on handball against Colwill.

The evidence seemed to show the ball strike the defender’s face, as Stamford Bridge breathed a sigh of collective relief.

Mauricio Pochettino likened his role at Chelsea to that of a university professor as he seeks to install a more robust mentality in an inexperienced squad.

The team suffered a second-half collapse to go down 4-1 at injury-hit Newcastle last weekend, bringing an abrupt end to their recent run of impressive results.

With an average age of just over 23, Chelsea have the youngest squad in this season’s Premier League, though expectation has been driven sky-high by co-owner Todd Boehly spending more than £1billion during the last 18 months.

That investment had looked finally to be paying dividends after recent results which included a 4-1 victory away at previously unbeaten Tottenham and thrilling home draws against last season’s top two, Arsenal and Manchester City.

But at St. James’ Park they were routed by Eddie Howe’s side, losing captain Reece James to a second-half red card as the hosts scored three times in 23 minutes to inflict a second loss in seven games.

Ahead of Sunday’s meeting with Brighton at Stamford Bridge, Pochettino emphasised his role as mentor in helping his players come of age.

“You need to approach like you’re a professor of a university,” he said. “Sometimes you need to accept it’s not bad intention (from the players).

“Sometime they can’t perform because they didn’t understand our message, so we have to analyse ourselves to explain in a different way.

“They need to learn. On the pitch they need to make decisions for themselves. It’s a process.

“Of course I trust in the club, the players, the squad. It’s only a matter of time.”

The Newcastle loss was marked by an uncharacteristically poor performance from veteran defender Thiago Silva, whose costly error allowed Joelinton to make it 3-1 and effectively kill the game.

Pochettino defended the 39-year-old and insisted on the importance to a young squad of a player with almost 900 professional appearances for club and country.

“The more experienced players can deal better with pressure and with mistakes,” he said. “With (Silva’s) experience, he can deal with mistakes.

“That’s a help because it’s one player less to manage, we can focus more on the younger players. That’s how he’s helping us.”

Pochettino added that the week since the defeat on Tyneside has been spent analysing why the team capitulated so readily in the face of Newcastle’s pressure.

“It’s like when you go to the doctor because you have some pain in your body,” he said. “First of all, the doctor needs to do some analysis, then to detect the problem, then to give the solution, the medicine.

“It’s the same. It’s to identify why that happened. Then you attack the problem with a solution.

“It’s a young team that needs to be more mature and consistent. These ups and downs can happen. But now we need to realise why it happens in a young team, we need to emphasise different areas, to anticipate these type of situations in future.”

Mauricio Pochettino admitted Moises Caicedo’s international commitments with Ecuador have complicated the midfielder’s early Chelsea career.

The club paid a British record £115million to sign the 22-year-old from Brighton in August but frequent trips to South America to play for his country have limited the time he has been able to spend working with coaching staff at Cobham.

He has played 14 times in all competitions since his arrival, recovering from a red card on his first appearance against West Ham to become a steady if not yet spectacular performer in the heart of midfield.

Since joining Chelsea he has been called up three times by Ecuador and played in six matches, with each international window requiring a more than 11,000-mile round trip, sometimes not arriving back in London until the early hours of the day before Chelsea’s next game.

He revealed in an interview with the club’s website this week that he spent much of his first 10 days in England alone in a hotel room in tears and suffering from homesickness, after joining the Seagulls from Independiente del Valle in his home country in January 2021 during the Covid pandemic.

Restrictions on movement for people arriving into the UK meant he was unable to meet his Brighton team-mates until completing a period of quarantine, during which he phoned his parents in Ecuador asking to return home.

He recovered to become one of the standout successes of the team that Roberto De Zerbi led to a club-best sixth-placed Premier League finish last campaign, sparking a bidding war between Liverpool and Chelsea in which Pochettino’s side were victorious.

The manager reiterated a call for patience as Caicedo navigates life at Chelsea amid a hectic World Cup qualifying schedule internationally.

“When we signed him we knew what is going to happen,” said Pochettino. “He’s an emotional guy, an emotional player that needs time to recover.

“It didn’t help also the international games, travelling to Ecuador, to South America. That is really tough every single month, two or three weeks then go 10, 12 days away, then come back sometimes with some injury.

“It’s not an excuse but it’s the reality. Now we need time. Of course I say (the team) always need to perform. That is our mentality. But in some situations like his, we need to give time and not to be unfair in the way that we assess him.”

Caicedo has formed a reliable partnership in midfield with Enzo Fernandez, who the club paid a then-British record £107m to sign from Benfica in January while Graham Potter was in charge.

Pochettino revealed that the Argentinian World Cup winner asked for extra time off during the summer due to fatigue and was granted permission to join up late with the squad on their United States tour.

“It’s different because Enzo arrived last January, he was with different coaches here,” said the manager. “He asked when we arrived for a period of holiday because he was tired after the World Cup and everything. He joined us in North Carolina.

“I cannot judge the past. Only I can talk from when we arrived (at Chelsea). We expect all, not only (these two), all the players, even the ones not too much involved, to push their level.”

Mauricio Pochettino believes his players have been their own worst enemies this season after Chelsea’s recent good form was derailed by last weekend’s thrashing at Newcastle.

The 4-1 loss on Tyneside came after the team had given arguably their two most promising performances of the season, first winning by the same score away at previously unbeaten Tottenham, then in drawing a frenetic match 4-4 against Premier League and European champions Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

Yet at St. James’s Park they were routed by Eddie Howe’s side, with Pochettino admitting to feeling angry and disappointed at the manner in which his players capitulated in the second half against a Newcastle team ravaged by injuries.

Inconsistency has been a thorn in the manager’s side since he took over in July, with only four wins in 13 league matches.

Home form has been a particular concern, with one victory so far and defeats against Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Brentford, though performances in earning creditable draws against Arsenal, Liverpool and City had offered cause for hope.

However, the heavy defeat to Newcastle, which was compounded by a red card for captain Reece James, has brought questions about the rate of progress under the Argentinian back to the fore ahead of welcoming Brighton to west London on Sunday.

“It was a tough week for everyone,” said Pochettino. “I’m very happy because the players reacted really well. We blame ourselves because our approach (at Newcastle) maybe was wrong.

“But the week was good to realise what we need to improve. We need to be more consistent and mature. I’m very, very happy so far. It was tough in training and in meetings, but sometimes this type of situation helps you to improve a lot.

“The important thing is not to look at the end of the season, but to see the process and to improve every day. That’s the most difficult thing always in this type of process, to be focused on today and not on tomorrow.

“We beat Tottenham, had an amazing game against Manchester City, then we lose against Newcastle. We are our worst enemies and we need to be focused on us.

“If we are in a good place (against Brighton), I think for sure we will compete in a very good way. Brighton are not going to be the problem. We need to pay attention (to the opposition), but in this process I think we need to pay more attention to ourselves than to the opponent.”

Summer signings Christopher Nkunku and Romeo Lavia will be assessed on Saturday ahead of the Brighton game, with Pochettino confirming “they are close” to being fit enough to make long-awaited debuts.

Nkunku, a £52million capture from RB Leipzig, suffered a knee injury during a pre-season game against Borussia Dortmund, disrupting a promising start to his Chelsea career on the club’s United States tour, whilst Lavia has been out with an ankle problem and has not played since joining from Southampton.

Pochettino added that he had not held back in showing his anger to the players following the surrender to Newcastle.

“The players know very well how my mood was,” he said. “I’m not going to act. I’m not going to show a face that I don’t feel.

“I think it’s important the players feel the coaches in a natural way when we are angry, when we’re happy we’re happy. We were tough in our analysis, but tough is about telling the truth.”

What the papers say

Aaron Ramsdale will be allowed to leave Arsenal at the end of the season, but not before, according to The Sun via 90min. The England goalkeeper has been forced to play second fiddle at the Emirates to David Raya but the club do not want him to leave on loan in January.

An ankle injury to Rodrigo Bentancur, 26, could keep a couple of other midfielders at Tottenham. The Uruguayan is ruled out until at least February and the Daily Telegraph reports the club could reject moves for Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, 28, and Oliver Skipp, 23, in his absence.

Premier League clubs are keeping an eye on Mason Greenwood, 22, during his spell in Getafe, according to the Daily Mail via Spanish outlet AM. The Manchester United forward is on loan in Spain after charges against him including attempted rape and assault against him were dropped.

Chelsea have been overtaken in the race to sign Corinthians midfielder Gabriel Moscardo, according to The Standard. Paris St Germain have emerged as the favourites to capture the 18-year-old Brazilian.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Leander Dendoncker: Everton are interested in Aston Villa’s Belgian midfielder, 28, according to Football Insider.

Jakub Kiwior: Injury-hit AC Milan are keen on a January loan move for Arsenal’s Polish defender, 23, according to Italian outlet Calciomercato.

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