Mauricio Pochettino insists Reece James will not be rushed back from the hamstring injury that has disrupted his season, even if a delayed return costs him a place in England’s Euro 2024 squad.

The club captain has made just eight Premier League appearances this campaign and is at risk of missing out on a second international tournament in as many years, having been ruled out of the 2022 World Cup with a knee problem.

He featured only 16 times in the league last season when a combination of knee and hamstring injuries kept him on the sidelines for club and country.

And after being forced off during August’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool he has had even worse luck this term.

The 24-year-old, who has only once in his Chelsea career reached 30 league appearances in a season, teased on social media this week that “the comeback is coming” and has returned to the training pitch, albeit working separately from his team-mates.

However, with a history of recurring fitness problems, Pochettino was understandably cautious about reintroducing him and was adamant he would not be hurried back for the sake of his international place.

“I cannot say the date of when it’s possible,” said the Argentinian. “His target and our target is for him to be fit and feel happy and well. Then we’ll see about the possibility of going to the Euros or not, or to be ready for next season or to play before we finish this season.

“The most important thing now is to build his confidence, his physical condition, to recover all the good feelings.

“The target is not to try and play the last five games or in the Euros or pre-season. The target is to build again his confidence and to feel strong, then to start to play when he feels strong and can deal again with the competition.”

Despite establishing himself as a key figure for Chelsea when fit, James has so far made just a single major tournament appearance, starting for Gareth Southgate’s side in a goalless draw with Scotland at Euro 2020.

He looked set to be a member of the squad in Qatar until a knee injury in a Champions League match against AC Milan scuppered his chances.

“I didn’t speak with (Southgate),” said Pochettino. “But we have spoken people involved in (the FA), medical, performance people.

“It’s not ‘now I can go on the pitch, I can play’. It’s to be sure we can go to the competition and he can feel strong and can forget all that has happened in the past.”

James will be one of seven players unavailable to Pochettino at Brentford on Saturday.

Injures have severely disrupted the seasons of Christopher Nkunku, Romeo Lavia, Lesley Ugochukwu and Carney Chukwuemeka, whilst Wesley Fofana is likely to be forced to miss the entire campaign.

The manager reiterated his frustration at the impact injuries have had on his first season in charge.

“When you start the season, you put in your head the idea of the potential of the squad,” he said. “When you think about Nkunku, Reece, (Ben) Chilwell or Fofana, Lavia, (Moises) Caicedo, you imagine the players in the best place, with all their potential.

“Then when the circumstances happen, of course it’s about translating the reality. If you go back and say ‘no, you said we can play to win the Premier League’ – when you see the possibility that you have with the squad, then of course.

“But then with the circumstance, the reality, we’ve had 10, 12 players every single week out. That will affect the performance of the team.”

Mauricio Pochettino hailed a “needed” victory as Chelsea bounced back from Sunday’s Carabao Cup final extra-time heartbreak to edge past Leeds and reach the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Conor Gallagher, who missed two glorious chances in the closing stages of normal time in the Wembley loss to Liverpool, came off the bench to hit the winner at Stamford Bridge as the Championship side were dispatched 3-2 to set up a last-eight meeting with Leicester.

Axel Disasi and Moises Caicedo combined to gift Mateo Joseph an eighth-minute opener but the Blues turned it around before half-time as Nicolas Jackson equalised and Raheem Sterling set up Mykhailo Mudryk to make it 2-1.

Leeds levelled just before the hour mark when Joseph headed home his second but Enzo Fernandez set up Gallagher to avoid extra-time and put Chelsea through.

“We needed this result,” said Pochettino. “It wasn’t a great performance. (Leeds) were a team full of confidence, a very strong team, they are doing fantastic in the Championship.

“It was tough for us, when you concede after a few minutes. But the character we showed after in this situation, it’s a thing to learn from the team. I’m so happy. We avoided extra-time. We’re in the quarter-final which was our objective.

“It’s always tough when you lose a final in extra-time. We had 72 hours or less to recover, it’s always difficult. The effort was massive and I say thank you to the players because they made a fantastic effort.”

Pochettino reiterated his rejection of Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville’s jibe that Chelsea had “bottled” the Carabao Cup final against a Liverpool side bested by injuries.

“I cannot be angry about (Neville),” he said. “With all my love to Gary, it’s not fair to use this type of word for a team that is so brave, a club that always fights for big things.

“What can we do? Only with this type of performance show that we are brave and that we can win games. Nothing to say, only to keep moving.

“It’s not important for us. Because we know how we are and who we are, and how we behave. We know why we lost the game against Liverpool. It’s nothing to do with this.

“We know that we are brave and that we are working really hard, For us, it’s not an important comment.”

Leeds boss Daniel Farke reflected on a game that slipped away at the hands of clinical finishing from Chelsea.

“That second goal (from Mudryk), class finish,” he said. “The third goal, really good action of Gallagher.

“I’m disappointed because wherever we go, we want to win. I know it’s not realistic we will win the FA Cup, but I wanted to win this and go in the next round. We are a young side, without several key players.”

Chelsea survived an FA Cup scare as Conor Gallagher came off the bench to score a last-minute winner and seal a 3-2 victory over Leeds at Stamford Bridge.

The substitute lashed the ball past the visitors’ goalkeeper Illan Meslier to grab what had looked an unlikely victory for much of the game, never more so than when the Blues fell behind inside eight minutes to the first of two goals from Mateo Joseph.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side rallied and looked to have put their woeful start behind them when first Nicolas Jackson and then Mykhailo Mudryk netted to send them in 2-1 up at the break.

Leeds would not lie down easy though, and Joseph headed them level after evading Trevoh Chalobah at the far post on the hour mark.

The home support bubbled with disquiet, sensing another cup mishap after Sunday’s Carabao Cup final loss to Liverpool.

Then came Gallagher’s late intervention to keep hopes of a Wembley return in May alive.

The opening 10 minutes were dominated by Leeds. They might have taken the lead when Daniel James found space on the edge of the box and acrobatically lobbed an effort wide.

It was a let-off for Chelsea, but they did not heed their good fortune. From the goal-kick, Axel Disasi played a short pass inside the penalty area that left Moises Caicedo vulnerable. Leeds snapped at his heels, dispossessing him, and the ball broke to Joseph, who cracked it past Robert Sanchez as Chelsea’s defence pointed fingers.

The first mutterings of discontent among the home support started, but they were doused before they had time to take hold. Caicedo made partial amends for his earlier error, sliding a precise ball through that split Leeds’ defence. Into the space strode Jackson, and he placed it into Meslier’s bottom corner to ease Chelsea nerves.

Thereafter they settled, and deservedly took the lead after 37 minutes. Noni Madueke carried the ball up through midfield and poked it to Malo Gusto wide on the right. He fed Raheem Sterling, who crossed for Mudryk to cap the move with a delightful finish, glancing it with a deft right foot wide of the goalkeeper and in.

James skied one over the bar from six yards as Leeds threatened an instant reply. Jaidon Anthony went closer when he curled wide from outside the box, a reminder that a stiff challenge might await Chelsea in the second half.

Daniel Farke’s team had won nine in a row in the league. Here they went up against Premier League opponents with the courage and skill to suggest they would fare well should they return to the top flight, but their hosts were giving ample encouragement.

The equaliser was straight forward and entirely avoidable from Chelsea’s point of view. Anthony was given space on the right to assess options and size up a cross. Stealing away at the far post was Jospeh, and his marker Chalobah paid him little heed as he stepped outside the defender and nodded past an exposed Sanchez.

The murmurs of disapproval began again from the stands, though they were largely drowned out by the away fans’ vocal support. They deserved better than the heartbreak that came as the clock ticked over to 90 minutes.

Enzo Fernandez was the architect of the winner, darting infield and through the heart of the defence and finally finding the pass that Chelsea had craved throughout the half. Gallagher, with fresh legs from the bench, let the ball run across him and with a swing of his right boot lashed Chelsea into the quarter-finals.

Mauricio Pochettino finds constant talk of Chelsea’s billion-pound spend tiresome and remains convinced his under-fire players will develop into “an amazing team”.

Blues boss Pochettino has overseen an underwhelming campaign since arriving at Stamford Bridge last summer and his expensively-assembled squad faced further criticism following Sunday’s Carabao Cup final loss to Liverpool.

Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville branded them “blue billion-pound bottle jobs” late in their 1-0 extra-time defeat to opponents deprived of a host of star names due to injury.

Former Tottenham and Paris St Germain manager Pochettino is confident he retains the backing of Chelsea’s co-owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali and is adamant the club’s costly long-term project in the post-Roman Abramovich era is destined for success.

“The problem is so annoying when after eight months always people talk about one billion,” Pochettino said ahead of Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth-round tie at home to Leeds.

“I feel that’s a little bit unfair.

“The new owners arrived with the right intention and they want to build something that is different from the past.

“For me the players have an amazing quality, they only need time.

“It’s not an excuse for me because if I am here or not, it’s not dependent on me, it’s dependent of my job and I think we are doing an amazing job.

“We cannot see maybe great results. But I think with time we are going to have an amazing team because we are young, we are learning, because we create something that starts to appear in the training ground.”

Chelsea sit 11th in the Premier League, 17 points adrift of the top four and 15 above the relegation zone.

European qualification already looks to be a major ask, while the big-spending Blues must overcome the side sitting second in the Sky Bet Championship to progress to the FA Cup quarter-finals and keep alive hope of silverware this term.

“People that work here for many years say they start to feel in a different way how the club is,” said Pochettino.

“But unfortunately we cannot relate in points. Always this type of process needs time.”

Asked if he expects the club’s ownership to remain patient with him, Pochettino replied: “Why not? I am confident until they tell me something.

“I feel the support from them. When I go up (to receive his runners-up medal at Wembley), I was so upset, nearly crying when I arrived there.

“And then Todd sent a very, very nice text to me, and then I met Behdad and he was really, really good.

“Our responsibility is to match the expectation, and when the expectation and the reality is close it’s easy.

“We need to translate to our people that they need to trust and be patient because we are building in a different way to succeed.”

Pochettino has been encouraged by his players’ response to the weekend disappointment and feels they are motivated to prove a point against Leeds.

“Always the pressure is to win and to go through,” he said.

“To arrive to the first final of the season in England is a massive achievement but after you don’t get the title it’s tough.

“Now is a game that is going to be tough. We need to be strong, with good energy and the players want to show that we are in the way that is going to be good for the club.”

What the papers say

Big changes could be in the pipeline at Chelsea on and off the pitch this summer, according to various reports. The Daily Mail says Sporting Lisbon boss Ruben Amorim is a possible replacement for manager Mauricio Pochettino.

On the field, the club are looking to sell defender Trevoh Chalobah, 24, and Albania forward Armando Broja, 22, according to The Daily Telegraph. England midfielder Conor Gallagher, 24, and Spain left-back Marc Cucurella, 25, could also leave in the summer.

Summer changes are also expected at Manchester United. The Manchester Evening News says Brazil winger Antony, 24, is among the players they would be prepared to sell.

Victor Osimhen is eyeing a move to the Premier League, according to The Sun. Arsenal and Chelsea are believed to be heading the race for the Napoli striker, 25, although Manchester United and Paris St Germain are also reportedly  interested.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Alphonso Davies: Real Madrid have reached agreement to sign the Bayern Munich and Canada left-back, 23, in the summer or next year, according to The Athletic.

Joao Palhinha: Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Arsenal are chasing the Fulham and Portugal midfielder, 28, reports Football Insider.

Mauricio Pochettino insisted there is nothing personal between him and Jurgen Klopp ahead of Chelsea’s Carabao Cup final meeting with Liverpool on Sunday. (The final of the Carabao Cup between Chelsea and Liverpool will be aired live at 10:00/11:00 EST)

The pair faced off in the 2019 Champions League final when the Argentinian was in charge of Tottenham, losing 2-0 in Madrid to hand his opposite number a first trophy at Anfield.

The game is remembered for controversy after Spurs’ Moussa Sissoko was penalised for a contentious handball inside the opening minute, resulting in Mohamed Salah giving Liverpool the lead from the spot.

More recently the Reds were 4-1 winners against Chelsea in the Premier League at the end of January, when Pochettino’s side were outclassed by their hosts and fell well short of expectations set by the more than £1billion it cost to assemble their squad.

Since then there has been a notable upturn in performances, with three impressive away results including a 1-1 draw against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium a week ago.

As he seeks his first silverware in England, the 51-year-old said neither he nor his players are motivated by revenge against their Wembley opponents.

“It’s nothing against Jurgen Klopp or Liverpool,” he said. “We love to compete with the best teams and Liverpool as a club, and Klopp with his coaching staff and the players, I think they are amazing. You love to compete with this type of organisation.

“It’s not personal against Klopp or against Liverpool to have revenge. It’s a challenge for us to say ‘we have the possibility to write history, winning a trophy’. That is our biggest motivation. That is my motivation.”

Chelsea followed the loss on Merseyside with a dismal 4-2 defeat at home to Wolves that saw sections of the home support boo the team off.

Since then, the atmosphere around the club has improved significantly, with the draw at City preceded by consecutive 3-1 wins at Aston Villa and Crystal Palace that have injected renewed hope into the team’s season.

“We didn’t compete (at Anfield),” said Pochettino. “If you see the first two minutes, we didn’t match them in the capacity to compete. We created some chances and there (should have been) a penalty after five minutes with (Conor) Gallagher that may change the situation.

“But the most important thing now in this process is to challenge ourselves to be better. If you want to challenge another person, but you are not ready… You need to put your body and your mind in the best condition. If we are in the best condition, we are going to challenge.”

Pochettino rejected the suggestion that victory on Sunday would prompt critics to move on from the huge transfer outlay expended by co-owner Todd Boehly since he took control in May 2022.

“It’s not easy in football,” he said. “It’s not an ordinary business. People know that it’s not only about spending money. It helps, but it’s not only.

“You need time if you want to build something. That is the process that we are involved in now.

“You cannot buy victories. You cannot buy trophies. Money helps, but it doesn’t give trophies.”

Mauricio Pochettino has urged the match officials not to be swayed by the focus on Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool farewell in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

Klopp will leave Anfield in the summer after almost nine years in charge and Sunday marks this season’s first chance to add to his seven trophies with the club.

Pochettino insisted his side “want to win because of Chelsea,” rather than being motivated by a desire to spoil Klopp’s farewell.

But he admitted he was unhappy with refereeing decisions in the recent league meeting between the teams, feeling his side should have had penalties for Virgil van Dijk’s challenges on Conor Gallagher in the first half and Christopher Nkunku in the second.

In quotes reported by several national newspapers regarding pressure on the outgoing Reds boss, the Argentinian added: “It is not pressure for him. Maybe it is for the people who want to celebrate with Liverpool.

“We need to be sure we are going to compete and be fair in every decision. At Anfield, I think too many decisions… not one key decision was for us.

“Two penalties were not given. Duels, 50-50s, always for another colour. Always red. I want to be treated in a fair way.

“The first decision after five minutes was a clear penalty. In the second half it was a penalty. The pressure is about not delivering the job for Klopp, the pressure is not to be part of the (hype).

“Of course, we are going to celebrate (Klopp’s reign). I am the first who is going to say that Liverpool is amazing and Klopp is one of the best coaches in the world.

“But I think after my last experience, what I want in Wembley is to not feel the pressure. It is to play a game at the same level and the best team will win. But not to feel the pressure of people around.”

Mauricio Pochettino believes Chelsea are “awake” after recent results that have altered the course of their season ahead of Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

The meeting with Liverpool at Wembley will be the club’s first final since co-owner Todd Boehly took charge and embarked on a radical overhaul that has so far not brought success.

It comes after wins away at Aston Villa in the FA Cup and Crystal Palace in the Premier League, which were followed by a fine draw against champions Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium a week ago.

Those three performances have significantly changed the perception of Pochettino’s rebuilding of the team, after the last home game – a 4-2 defeat to Wolves at Stamford Bridge early in February – saw Chelsea booed off the pitch by sections of their own support.

Days earlier they were soundly beaten 4-1 at Anfield by Sunday’s opponents, a disjointed performance in which the team looked to be in disarray and well short of expectations set by the more than £1billion spent by Boehly on recruitment.

Now the the Argentinian is confident that the last three weeks have brought a significant change in his players’ ability to compete at Wembley with title-chasing Liverpool.

“We will need to manage some moments during the game,” he said. “But I think in the last few weeks we’ve learned a lot, we’ve stepped up from (the defeat at Anfield). We arrive with very good momentum.

“After competing against Villa, Palace and Manchester City, it’s provided the team with the confidence and the trust.

“The team is awake to the competition. There was a click to change in the way we compete, that we were missing in the first half of the season.

“The circumstances are completely different (now), for us and for (Liverpool).”

Since the game at Anfield, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has lost a number of key players to injury including Trent Alexander-Arnold, Alisson Becker, Diogo Jota and Curtis Jones.

Pochettino has selection worries of his own, with Thiago Silva to be assessed having missed the last three games.

Goalkeeper Robert Sanchez is available after injury but Djordje Petrovic, who has impressed since coming into the side early in December, could keep his place.

Klopp has stated he believes his team are not favourites at Wembley, an idea the Chelsea manager rejects.

“(Klopp) is clever enough,” said Pochettino. “He knows that when you play a final, anything can happen. If they’re not the favourite, then we are not the favourite.

“For me Liverpool is the favourite. After eight years they have the experience to compete like a team, and be involved in different finals.

“For our players, it’s new. For some of them it’s maybe their first final. That’s why they are favourites, in my opinion. But he is clever enough to say it’s 50-50.”

Pochettino added that his team may ultimately be stronger for their chastening night on Merseyside in January.

“In this type of process, you need that these type of things happen,” he said. “You need to really wake up about the situation.

“The team needs to learn from the good and the not-so-good experiences. It was positive.

“After Liverpool, that result was completely unfair. But maybe that was good for us, to feel the pain, the negative situation, to be stronger now, and to find the way to compete better.”

Malo Gusto believes Mauricio Pochettino is “waking up” a winning mentality in Chelsea’s young squad as they prepare for Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.

The Argentinian’s resurgent team face Liverpool at Wembley looking to claim the club’s first silverware since co-owner Todd Boehly took over in May 2022.

In that time there has been an almost total overhaul of personnel both on the pitch and behind the scenes, with over £1billion spent on assembling a team with the youngest average age in the Premier League.

After a slow start there was been notable improvement in recent weeks, culminating in a fine performance in ending champions Manchester City’s winning run at home with a 1-1 draw on Saturday.

However, Pochettino and his players are yet to convince everyone. The team were booed off by fans following their last home game, a 4-2 defeat to Wolves at Stamford Bridge, with supporters’ frustrations also being directed at the manager personally.

Sunday’s final could be a key indicator as to whether a corner has truly been turned following the City draw and impressive wins away at Aston Villa and Crystal Palace.

And defender Gusto – a key figure during the recent upturn in results, deputising at right-back for injured captain and England international Reece James – praised his manager for working to instil a winning attitude.

“He (Pochettino) is here for this,” said the 20-year-old. “He knows he has to wake up our mentality, to wake up our desire to win everything. We are Chelsea and a big club like Chelsea has to win everything, to keep fighting.

“He helps us a lot. He has tried to show us the desire to win, to keep fighting against every team. He talks to us a lot about tactics, technique and everything.

“He is a good person as well. He tries to help us a lot on the pitch and off it as well. He is a good coach for this young team.”

Gusto has been one of the outstanding performers of Chelsea’s recent recruits.

Signed from Lyon for £30.7million in January 2023, he was loaned back to the Ligue 1 side for remainder of last season before making his mark during the current campaign.

He has made 24 appearances in all competitions, after a recurring hamstring injury limited James to just nine.

A forward player in his youth, he has evolved into an effective attacking full-back and he has made four assists in the league, most recently setting up Conor Gallagher’s equaliser in the 3-1 win at Palace with a pinpoint low cross.

He made his senior debut for France as a substitute in a 2-1 win against the Netherlands in October.

He said he was not daunted by the prospect of dislodging James from the team before signing for Chelsea, adding: “I wasn’t thinking about what could happen. I just wanted to take my chance.

“If I can play, I play. I’ve stayed focus on my football. I work every day to become better, to improve. That’s what I do.

“We are not similar, (James) and me. He’s a bit different, but when we are on the pitch we try to keep a mentality to score and to assist.

“I work for (getting better going forward). I have good cardio, good legs. This is my football. When I was younger, I was the same, running every day. When your team-mates see you run a lot, you want to run a lot with them.”

The defender came in for particular praise for the way he dealt defensively with City’s Jeremy Doku during Saturday’s draw at the Etihad Stadium.

“I came to Chelsea because I wanted to play against great players. I think the game was complicated, but it was good for me to learn.

“(The praise) is nice, but I don’t really care about it, I just want to to become a better person and better player.

“The game against Doku, people talk about it, but it’s just one game. Maybe this weekend I could be s*** and the game after I could be better.”

Pep Guardiola refused to blame Erling Haaland for wasting chances after Manchester City were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw by Chelsea on Saturday.

The normally prolific Haaland spurned a number of opportunities, including one glaring free header from six yards out, as the champions were held in a compelling Premier League clash at the Etihad Stadium.

City ultimately needed an 83rd-minute equaliser from Rodri to rescue a point after their former forward Raheem Sterling had put the Londoners on course for an unexpected win with a 43rd-minute effort.

City manager Guardiola said: “It’s good to have nine shots and next time he’s going to score.

“I was a football player for 11 years and scored 11 goals. What stats! One goal a season. I’m not a proper man to give advice to strikers.

“We create the chances; he had the chances and next time he’s going to score. I don’t blame him. It’s football, it’s human beings.”

Haaland looked frustrated at the end of the game and pushed away a TV camera, but it has been a difficult week for the Norway international after the death of his grandmother.

The result left City four points off the top of the table in third place, after title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal won earlier in the day.

City dominated the second half, but Guardiola felt they paid the price for a poor first-half display.

Guardiola said: “As a team and a group, the first half was not like we are.

“The demands are so high because no-one is going to give it to us, we have to do everything. We are Man City, so we have to do it for ourselves all the time.

“We had to improve the first half and the second half was unbelievable, how we played and how we made transitions.

“In general, it was really good after we conceded from Raheem but when we play teams with composure and prestige of Chelsea you have to perform at your best for 95 minutes.”

Chelsea’s season has been one of inconsistency, but manager Mauricio Pochettino felt they showed their true character against strong opposition.

Pochettino said: “We tried to prepare, all the coaching staff, to make the plan for the game but football is always a game that belongs to the players and today the execution and the performance was from them. They showed character.

“It was a really important game for us to keep the momentum to realise we are in a good way and improving.

“Still we are not at the level of Man City but that is our aim.

“We need to live this type of game to improve and to create the spirit we need. We show in every single game we want to be competitive.”

Mauricio Pochettino promised his Chelsea side would attack Manchester City when the two clubs meet at the Etihad Stadium for Saturday’s Premier League clash.

The defending champions drew a memorable game 4-4 at Stamford Bridge in November with former City player Cole Palmer scoring a penalty in stoppage time for the hosts to snatch a point.

Chelsea have endured mixed fortunes since, losing half of their 12 league fixtures, though following Monday’s 3-1 win away at Crystal Palace, they could climb to a season-high seventh place with victory against Pep Guardiola’s side.

With 14 games to go, the team have already score three more league goals than they managed in the entirety of the last campaign, when only four sides netted fewer.

Pochettino said there was no chance they would sit and wait for City – who have lost just once at home in the English top flight in almost two years – to come on to them.

“The lesson (from the first game) is that we’re going to face one of the best teams in the world, but at the same time you need to be brave enough to try to force them to defend, to run back and to face their goal,” he said.

“If we go there and wait to see what’s going on, it’s a team that can dominate you and will make you suffer.

“The most important thing we realised is that we need to attack, be able to run and to make the effort all together.

“The most important thing is to go there and be brave, to challenge them.”

Saturday’s game will be the first time Palmer has returned to the Etihad since his £40million summer move to west London.

Before making the switch, the 21-year-old scored for City in this season’s Community Shield, which was lost on penalties to Arsenal and in the UEFA Super Cup win over Sevilla.

He is currently top scorer for his new club with 12 in all competitions and has been arguably the standout success of co-owner Todd Boehly’s mammoth £1billion transfer spend.

Palmer had previously hinted that he moved as he did not believe he would get sufficient game time at City.

“He’s not the type of player that needs to prove anything,” said Pochettino.

“I think he really is very grateful for his period at Manchester City, (but) he left the club because he wanted to find another challenge and to have the possibility to play more.

“Man City have an amazing squad. (Clubs) make decisions that we think are the best for the team. It doesn’t mean someone is not a good player.

“Sometimes the circumstance doesn’t match. Players want to leave and you can’t stop them because you can’t provide the game time.

“It’s unfair to say they’re going to regret it. Man City are one of the best teams in the world and it’s not easy to find the space to play for a young guy.

“Someone here on the staff said to me ‘he’s from Manchester, but he looks like a Brazilian or an Argentinian’.

“He has the capacity to adapt so quick, because our strengths as South Americans, its that we come to Europe and we adapt very quick.”

Pochettino confirmed defender Thiago Silva would miss the game with a minor injury, though Levi Colwill and Malo Gusto were available.

Goalkeeper Robert Sanchez was fit for contention – having not played since December – but the manager would not say whether he would be selected ahead of Djordje Petrovic.

“You will see,” he said. “You never know in football what can happen.”

Roy Hodgson struggled to find positives after Chelsea scored twice in stoppage-time to inflict a 3-1 home loss on his Crystal Palace team.

Conor Gallagher, who spent the 2021-22 season on loan with the Eagles, struck twice to complete the comeback, becoming the first Chelsea player to score a 90th-minute winner in the Premier League since he did precisely the same at Selhurst Park in October 2022.

Beleaguered boss Hodgson, whose side are once again mired in an injury crisis and remain just five points clear of the relegation zone, initially found it difficult to discuss the brighter elements of Monday’s contest.

Hodgson said: “I’m not really in the mood if I’m being brutally honest of (highlighting) positives and trying to find things to say that would cheer me up, because I don’t know what could be said that would cheer me up.

“What can I say that will cheer the players up? I could possibly say, well, with the players we’ve got coming back and these guys doing so well, it bodes well for the future with the 14 games we have left.

“But of course we still don’t know when (Michael) Olise, (Eberechi) Eze will be back, so we might be battling through like we’ve done tonight for a few more games before we can look at a team which will threaten the opposition a bit more than we did today.”

As has been par for the Palace course in recent weeks, before kick-off fans raised banners protesting about the direction of their club, with one reading “supporters ignored and taken for granted”.

A lacklustre start from Mauricio Pochettino’s men allowed the hosts to take the lead after 30 minutes through Jefferson Lerma’s screamer, but it was cancelled out less than two minutes after the break by Gallagher, his first of the campaign.

Hodgson did not feel a lengthy delay to sort out a technical issue with the referee’s equipment had an impact on the equaliser, pointing out it had equally affected both sides.

Just as it seemed Hodgson’s side – who rank below only Sheffield United in goals conceded in the last 15 minutes of the second half of Premier League matches – seemed like they would walk away with a point, Gallagher swept Chelsea into the top half of the table.

Hodgson felt his side might have had a chance to level things until, three minutes later, Enzo Fernandez ended any doubt about the outcome.

Pochettino, meanwhile, was pleased to secure all three points ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Manchester City and the Carabao Cup final later this month, but felt there was plenty of room to improve.

He said:  “I think (Gallagher) is a player that shows great commitment to the team, always tries to compensate in every situation, in offensive and defensive situations.

“It is priceless to have a player like him. I’m so happy for him and so happy for the team, it’s a victory, we needed the three points.

“I think if you ask me if I am really happy about the performance, I’m 50/50, because we cannot approach the game and start the game the way that we started.

“That is the consistency we need to build. We need to be more consistent, we need to start the game in a different way.

“But I’m very pleased in the end because we have the three points, and now we have to prepare for Manchester City, that is going to be a good test for us, before the final. I think we are going to prepare in a very good way.”

Mauricio Pochettino believes Chelsea’s 3-1 win against Aston Villa can be a springboard for his side to revive their ailing campaign.

The team gave arguably their best performance under the Argentinian in dispatching the Premier League high-flyers in Wednesday’s FA Cup fourth-round replay at Villa Park.

And it could not have come at a more opportune moment, arriving after the Blues were booed off by fans at the end of their previous outing, a 4-2 home loss to Wolves that left them 11th.

Chelsea have struggled to be consistent this season as a young squad have found expectations surrounding the club difficult to live up to, particularly in light of the £1billion transfer spend conducted by the ownership.

Yet they comprehensively defeated a Villa side currently in the top four and that recently enjoyed an unbeaten home run of almost year.

“Before (Villa) we had some good performances, but we are not consistent enough,” said Pochettino. “Maybe it could be the starting point for us, starting to be consistent and to show more often this type of performance.

“Always we believe (we can find) momentum and be consistent. Many things from the players and from the team (show we can be consistent).

“I hope it’s going to be a very good thing for us. I think the players deserve, they’re working hard from the start of the season. This type of game showed our capacity and our talent. We have a very good squad.

“We need to put it all together, behave the way that we behave, approach the game in the way that we approach. There are many good things we need to keep for the future.”

Chelsea beat Villa with three outstanding goals, two in the first half from Conor Gallagher, who drilled left-footed into the top corner after 11 minutes, and Nicolas Jackson, whose strike was his first since returning from the Africa Cup of Nations.

Enzo Fernandez capped a brilliant win with a free-kick into the top corner beyond his Argentina team-mate Emiliano Martinez shortly after the break.

“It was only a matter of time,” said Pochettino. “I think Conor and Enzo, they are so good. They work a lot, always committed to the team and to the club.

“Great for Conor, great for Enzo also. They deserve to feel this way, to feel happy, to enjoy playing football. These two guys, they’ve worked so hard to try to perform. I’m so pleased with the performance from them.”

Chelsea will be without defender Benoit Badiashile for Monday’s meeting with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, after he went off with a groin injury at Villa Park.

Levi Colwill’s fitness will be assessed ahead of the game, although Pochettino confirmed summer signing Romeo Lavia is not yet close to returning.

The manager said it was “impossible” the Belgium international would be available before the Carabao Cup final against Liverpool on February 25.

Mauricio Pochettino came out fighting after Chelsea outclassed Aston Villa to breeze into the FA Cup fifth round.

Enzo Fernandez’s stunning free kick sealed a 3-1 victory and set up last-16 tie against Leeds at Stamford Bridge.

First-half goals from Conor Gallagher and Nicolas Jackson put Chelsea in control of the fourth round replay and they cruised to victory, despite Moussa Diaby’s injury-time consolation.

Chelsea had come to Villa Park in disarray on the back of 4-1 and 4-2 defeats to Liverpool and Wolves – leaving them 11th in the Premier League.

But Pochettino insists they cannot be compared to the dominant side from the Roman Abramovich era which won five Premier League titles – despite spending over £1billion under owner Todd Boehly.

He said: “We need to stop this thing that we are Chelsea from 20 years ago. We are not this type of Chelsea anymore. Now we need to move on and we need to create this project.

“We need to move on, I don’t care if people are happy or not happy with my speech. I care for the club, I care for my players, I want to help the players.

“We are going to fight, I don’t care what the people say. I’m not more sad or happy today after a win because we have experience, this type of project needs time and trust.

“We cannot build a team to challenge because you need to fix too many things, you need to observe, analyse and compete.

“We are building a project which may be one year, two years, three years.

“Today you can see we were ready to fight. We fight for the fans, the badge, the coaching staff. Now the challenge is to be consistent.”

Just as the Chelsea fans sung for former owner Abramovich the visitors took the lead after 11 minutes.

Jackson and Noni Madueke combined to tee up Gallagher to find the top corner for his first goal of the season.

Ten minutes later it was 2-0 as Chelsea tore Villa apart down the right and Malo Gusto’s perfect cross was nodded in by Jackson.

There was barely a response from the hosts – who lost their 11-month unbeaten home league run to Newcastle last week – and Emi Martinez saved Cole Palmer’s effort as Chelsea looked for a third.

They found it nine minutes after the break when Fernandez, having been lucky to earn a foul off Youri Tielemans, curled a brilliant 25-yard free-kick into the top corner.

Villa were beaten but managed a consolation in stoppage time when Diaby’s strike went in off both posts and they now welcome a resurgent Manchester United in the Premier League on Sunday.

Boss Unai Emery said: “We were excited and motivated and we started well, we didn’t score but we were feeling good.

“When they were getting in our box we were not being strong and they were affecting us. They got into our box with some crosses and were clinical.

“I was more or less feeling the difference was the clinical way for them.

“We scored a little bit late and had no time to score the second goal. We have to accept and analyse the match. To beat them is not easy when you’re not being clinical.”

Mauricio Pochettino has called for perspective on the struggles of his Chelsea team, insisting “I cannot lose my hair” over recent poor results.

Sunday’s 4-2 loss at home to Wolves was the 10th in the league since the 51-year-old arrived in the summer and triggered the first audible signs of discontent from fans towards the manager.

Afterwards Pochettino appeared to suggest he believed the players were not good enough to arrest the club’s slide, though he has since clarified he was referring only to the performance in the defeat to Gary O’Neil’s side.

Chelsea were outrun and out-thought by Wolves who, despite seeing their hosts enjoy greater ball possession, were conformably the more threatening team and they cut through the Blues with relative ease en route to a first win at Stamford Bridge since 1979.

It drew an angry response from supporters near the dugout who booed the players off at half-time and again at the final whistle as the Blues dropped into the bottom half of the Premier League table.

It followed a meek 4-1 collapse away to Liverpool in their previous fixture.

However, Pochettino insisted it was important for a coach in his position to retain a sense of enjoyment in the job even in trying times.

“Football is my passion, not my job,” he said. “Sometimes we say ‘job’ but it’s the wrong word. Football is entertainment.

“If I don’t think like this, I need to go in another position, being a sporting director or CEO or president.

“Being coach, I need to keep a sense of why I am here. We cannot suffer because of business and other things. We need to be focused to play football.

“To be focused in football, you need to feel free in your mind. You cannot be affected because the stock in New York or Tokyo, or the weather or because the farm doesn’t grow.

“That’s why I keep my hair like this, because I don’t suffer from things that I am not in charge of. I only suffer for football, to try to improve the players, to provide them a good platform to win games.

“If there is no rain on my farm, you kill the business of my farm. That is a stress. You can lose your hair. But I cannot lose my hair because we’re not winning because the opponent was better than us.”

With 15 league games to go, Chelsea are just one place higher in the table than they finished last season in what was wildly acknowledged to be an appalling campaign.

They travel to Aston Villa on Wednesday for an FA Cup fourth-round replay.

“I didn’t finish 12th last year, Chelsea did,” said Pochettino. “It is a different squad to last year, many changes. If you want to compare to damage us, to compare things I think is impossible.

“You can compare to try to damage, if you want to make a problem. But to analyse and put all the circumstances, I don’t think that before was better or was worse. It’s difficult to compare because we are in another project.”

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