Ange Postecoglou, Andoni Iraola, and Gary O’Neil are managers in the Premier League that are going into their first season with their new clubs. Mauricio Pochettino at Chelsea might be the most exciting of the lot.
After promising signings and a good pre-season, let’s take a look at what could be in store for Chelsea for the upcoming campaign, and how they could set up.
Why is Pochettino so interesting? His managerial career is completely ‘opposite’. Using his last two jobs as case studies, let’s analyse his time at Tottenham Hotspur and Paris Saint-Germain.
At Tottenham he had youngsters, at PSG he had superstars. Tottenham was a long-term project, at PSG they wanted instant success. At Tottenham he was loved but never won a trophy, and at PSG he struggled but walked away with silverware. He arrived at Spurs as an outsider but was loved by fans, at PSG he returned to where he was once a player, but it never felt like home.
At Tottenham, despite not having the silverware to prove it, he created an incredible team, nurturing young starlets Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min, and he took them further than any manager since could – to a Champions League final with many positive domestic campaigns. At Paris Saint Germain, it was never the right fit. The manager didn’t suit the club.
The huge question mark over Chelsea is that on the face of it, they seem to fit the profile of PSG more so than the profile of Tottenham.
Chelsea’s huge spending spree since Todd Boehly’s takeover made life extremely difficult for Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard. Big squads, uncertain line-ups, unsettled players, lost drive and general confusion at the mess of the squad cursed Chelsea last year, and it begs the question, what can Pochettino do that the other three couldn’t?
Despite similarities between Chelsea and PSG, the Blues have sprinkles of ‘Pochettino’s Spurs’ in them. After a major clear-out this summer, the Argentinian coach has been left with a younger, hungrier, and naïve squad – but if there’s one man who could inspire them, it’s him.
Mykhaylo Mudryk, Enzo Fernandez, Noni Madueke, Levi Colwill and Nicolas Jackson are just a handful of examples of the types of players Pochettino works with best. They are talented, young, and still have a lot to prove.
Pochettino’s time at Tottenham tells us that he believes that these types of players have more commitment and drive than the older, more experienced heads in the dressing room. Harry Kane and Dele Alli shined under his management, something which Dele Alli has failed to do under many coaches. Players like Emmanual Adebayor (shock) didn’t cut it for Pochettino.
He has openly criticised the ‘cult of personality’ in the Premier League, and he could eradicate this at Stamford Bridge with his unique personality as a coach. Having worked with Messi, Mbappe and Neymar at PSG, and having played with both Diego Maradona and Ronaldinho, he has a wealth of experience to help him manage the big personalities at Stamford Bridge.
He is less tactical than Guardiola, less aggressive than Klopp, less exciting than Arteta; but he knows how to get a fanbase, group of players and backroom staff to love him. He trusts people, even when the results aren’t there yet. You aren’t signed to play for Pochettino, you’re signed to train for him, and the first 6-12 months at Chelsea will tell him exactly who is up for the challenge at Chelsea.
What could Pochettino’s Chelsea look like?
Ideally, Pochettino will want to play football on the front foot, with the emphasis on the young side pressing high. The Argentinian believes that winning possession is focused on how much you want to win the ball – and sprinting to regain possession is less draining than sprinting to catch up to a player who has passed you and driven into deeper, more dangerous positions.
At Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur, he got the best out of Rickie Lambert and Harry Kane not just through their goalscoring abilities, but by their ability to bring in others into play. Christopher Nkunku – despite his injury – and Mykhaylo Mudryk are good examples of players who could benefit from this type of striker.
Pochettino also operated a ‘back three’ at Tottenham, something which Chelsea have operated with over the last few years. Wing-backs Reece James and Ben Chilwell offer great support out wide, whereas Enzo Fernandez offers the profile of someone who plays in midfield but can also help defensively, slightly like Eric Dier’s versatility at Spurs. Enzo Fernandez is young and malleable, but already has great football intelligence, plenty of aggression and an outstanding passing range.
Chelsea have undergone a lot of changes over the last year, and Boehly wanted a long-term plan with Graham Potter. Instead, they had three separate managers last season, and the ruthlessness of the Blues has maintained status. If Pochettino is given time and trusted, he could be the man to work wonders at Chelsea, and Boehly could be given his wish of a long-term plan.