Mauricio Pochettino is now over six months into his career as Chelsea manager and there have been conflicting signs regarding which direction the team are heading in.
Following a turbulent end to the 2022-23 season, which saw Frank Lampard return as caretaker manager and the Blues win just one of their final 14 games in all competitions, Pochettino’s appointment preceded another huge transfer outlay in the summer window.
Given the influx of new players at Stamford Bridge over the past 18 months, and the changes in managers, it is only natural that Pochettino has taken time to make his mark.
Top-four place a challenge
That is reflected in the fact that Chelsea are now massive outsiders to win the Premier League this season after winning five, drawing four and losing seven of their opening 16 games. Finishing in the top four, which presents a huge challenge given the strength of the competition, is priced at 14/1, but at least Chelsea will not be figuring prominently in the Premier League relegation betting odds, favourites for which consist of the three recently-promoted teams.
It may be true that relegation was never a realistic possibility last season but finishing just 10 points above the bottom three is unheard of for a huge swathe of Chelsea supporters, given the success the club have enjoyed over the past two decades.
Taking over a team that had endured their worst Premier League finish since 1994 at least ensured Pochettino came into a situation where it seemed the only way could be up. The opening months of his time in charge certainly indicate there will be some downs alongside the ups before Chelsea are back challenging for the title but there is evidence to suggest the Argentinian can lead the Blues back to the summit if he is given time.
The results and performances against most of the club’s ‘Big Six’ rivals have demonstrated Pochettino’s Chelsea can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league following thrilling home draws against Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City. The 4-1 win at Tottenham may have involved some good fortune but it was still a commendable result to inflict a first league defeat of the season on Pochettino’s old club.
Carabao Cup a realistic trophy target
Progress to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup should also be respected. Pochettino took Spurs to the final of that competition in his first season in charge, before losing to Chelsea, but going one better and winning the tournament would be an early feather in his cap to prove he can win trophies in English football.
We go again 🤟🏽 pic.twitter.com/kJncJcaxZk
— Raheem Sterling (@sterling7) August 31, 2023
It is also clear which players have earned his early trust and are allowing him to put the foundations in place for how he wants to play. In the first 16 Premier League games this season, four players started at least 15 of those fixtures, while a further two players started 14.
Home defeats against Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and Brentford show Chelsea have a weakness against teams who are not going to go full throttle at the Bridge and that is something that Pochettino must figure out, as well as improving the level away from home.
But, given the only win in the opening six league games was at home to promoted Luton, Chelsea have shown enough to suggest that Pochettino is the right man for the job, and he now needs to be given the time to prove he is.