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Chelsea appoint Pochettino - Argentine coach has key decisions in every position

john-eastwood
03 Dec 2023
John Eastwood 03 Dec 2023
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  • Chelsea finished 12th in the English Premier League, failing to qualify for Europe
  • Mauricio Pochettino finished in the top 5 in each of his full seasons at Tottenham
  • The Blues had 33 first team players last season with several to return from loans
pochettino
New Chelsea coach Mauricio Pochettino has a busy summer ahead (Getty Images)

Chelsea 2023-24 season: fewer matches


The Blues will have no European football at all next season. For reference, they played 10 matches in the UEFA Champions League last season as they reached the quarter-final stage. That will mean at least 10 more full weeks between matches to train and prepare the team. 

It also means that a significantly smaller squad will be needed. With around 40 senior players at his disposal, once returning loanees are added, Pochettino may need the club to sell or loan out around a dozen players. 

Goalkeeper


This has been a problem position for the Blues at times over the six seasons since Thibaut Courtois left for Real Madrid with just one year left on his contract. Edouard Mendy excelled in his first season at the club but his form has declined and he was not given the new contract he wanted. 

Kepa Arrizabalaga had a reasonable campaign last time out but he is not the answer long-term. Both players have two years left on their deals and at least one will be sold. A new number one could be targeted. If the funds are spent elsewhere, they Pochettino will have to settle on a clear number one out of these two. 

Defence


Reece James and Ben Chilwell are set to remain first choice at fullback or wingback, regardless of the shape deployed by the coach. Malo Gusto should return from loan to provide much needed cover for James, meaning Cesar Azpilicueta could be allowed to depart. 

On the other side, there is only really space for one of Marc Cucurella, Lewis Hall or Ian Maatsen to stay as Chilwell’s competition. Maatsen could have interest from Burnley in making his loan into a permanent move. With Cucurella hard to shift, Hall could be loaned out. 

At centre back, there are big decisions to make with Levi Colwill returning from his loan at Brighton. Wesley Fofana, Benoit Badiashile, Kalidou Koulibaly, Thiago Silva and Trevoh Chalobah are already on the books. At least one of the six centre backs needs to leave, although two could be offloaded. 

Pochettino may want to loan Colwill out again and he could look to sell Chalobah or look to find a Serie A club to take Koulibaly off his hands on loan.

Central midfield


Denis Zakaria’s loan from Juventus is over, whilst there is a huge question mark over whether N’Golo Kante’s deal will be renewed with just a month left to run. Mateo Kovacic is down to one year on his contract whilst Ruben Loftus-Cheek is being heavily tipped for a move to AC Milan. 

In this area, Pochettino has to decide whether he wants to keep either of Kante or Kovacic and who will be signed to partner Enzo Fernandez. Mason Mount could be sold with a year left on his contract, which may mean Conor Gallagher hangs around. 

Carney Chukwumeka impressed late in the season but there not be enough game time to go around. What is clear is that Chelsea will sign at least one defensive midfielder in the transfer window. 

Wingers


This looks another overstocked area. Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech are being linked with exits but there is no guarantee that either will have a queue of suitors. Raheem Sterling has a long contract and will stay, hoping to have a better season next time around. 

Two young wingers in Noni Madueke and Mykhailo Mudryk were signed for big money in January but both look very raw. It remains to be seen if either can convince “Poch” during preseason that they deserve to be regular starters. 

Chelsea are also set to sign Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig. He could play wide, as a number ten or even up front. Alongside Sterling, he looks like a starting XI player for next season. 

Centre Forward


This looks like a real problem position for Chelsea. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has flopped and will almost certainly be allowed to leave. Young forward David Datro Fofana desperately needs a loan to refine his game. 

That leaves Kai Havertz, whose scoring record in his three seasons at Chelsea is nothing to write home about. Some may say he is not a centre forward but it isn’t clear what his best role is. When playing deeper, he rarely creates chances so he has a lot of work to do to win over Pochettino. 

Romelu Lukaku is still on the books but he clearly wants to stay at Inter Milan. Nkunku could lead the line, Sterling has played as a false nine too or a new striker could be signed. It appears that Joao Felix won’t be retained for next season after his very expensive loan spell failed to convince.

Summary – A dozen Chelsea departures


In conclusion, Mauricio Pochettino has to cut his squad down by around 12 players. Expect to see one goalkeeper, two centre backs, two left backs, three central midfielders, two strikers and two wingers depart. 

Before even sorting out his side’s fitness issue, playing style and incoming recruitment, a lot of decisions will need to be made behind the scenes by Pochettino and the board.

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