Mauricio Pochettino’s angsty and agitated Chelsea have arrived

FROM STAMFORD BRIDGE – Tuesday night had real potential to end disastrously for Chelsea and head coach Mauricio Pochettino.

They went into the second leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final with Middlesbrough needing to overturn a one-goal deficit after being humiliated by the mid-table Championship side a fortnight ago. With the Blues ninth in the Premier League, knives would have been out for Pochettino – who is already still a little unpopular among fans for his Tottenham connections – if they had been dumped out.

For nearly two decades, Chelsea were about winning no matter what the cost on and off the pitch. The BlueCo regime that replaced Roman Abramovich have done well not to completely eradicate that philosophy in their short time in west London.

Chelsea have a lot of work to do to prove to their fans they still see winning as the top priority, particularly following the replacement of Thomas Tuchel with first Brighton’s Graham Potter and then Pochettino, neither of whom are known for their glittering trophy collection.

Beyond winning, Chelsea also stood for defensive resilience, an impenetrable and inevitable identity. Potter failed to ever establish one of his own, while Pochettino’s charges have only shown brief glimpses of their potential.

With a comprehensive 6-1 victory in the second leg, Chelsea booked their spot in the Carabao Cup final in style and extended their unbeaten run at Stamford Bridge to nine matches – they won only seven once Tuchel was dismissed last season and would have struggled to see through such a fixture in this manner 12 months ago.

Cole Palmer, Levi ColwillCole Palmer, Levi Colwill

Chelsea are into the final / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

The only criticism of Pochettino’s spell across London at Spurs was the lack of silverware during his tenure. He was consistently dug out for supposedly showing a lack of respect towards domestic cups. He consistently retorted he was targeting success in the Premier League and Champions League (securing rather improbably and unlikely runners-up spots in both).

The Argentine might deny it publicly, but he had a point to prove and a chip on his shoulder regarding this. If he’s to prove successful at Chelsea, trophies must follow in his wake.

But at long last, the dying powerhouse of Fulham Road have demonstrated they know who they are, that they have an identity worth fighting for – they are fearsome and aggressive but still a little perturbed, much to Pochettino’s personification.

Usually a calm and level head preaching ‘tranquillo’ on the touchline, Pochettino has cut an increasingly flustered figure in Chelsea’s last two home games, seemingly feeling the pressure. This was ramped to the max against Boro, clenching his jaw and tightening his fists when his side didn’t move the ball quickly enough early on, perhaps a tad worried this could be another 90 minutes of failing to break down a deep block.

But when Pochettino teams score early, they tend to race away from their opponents, hassling them into errors and preying upon fear. This was very much the case on Tuesday – Chelsea’s best and most important performance of the season came in a cup semi-final regardless of the conditions of that victory.

Pochettino is both great at nurturing young talent but can also exacerbate any issues of childish petulance among such a squad. So far, it’s made another self-destructive Chelsea campaign, but they are showing enough upside now to show this arm of the project is worth persisting with.

The real test for both this Chelsea team and Pochettino’s credentials still stands ahead at Wembley against either Fulham, or more likely, Premier League leaders Liverpool. A trophy would mature a youthful squad and redefine their divisive manager. They have a blueprint to win the final in their own way.


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