Chelsea’s Defensive Woes: Pochettino Battles Mishaps

Chelsea’s tumultuous season has been an emotional rollercoaster that remains to surprise fans every week, with their last-minute comeback victory against Manchester United the latest edition of a series of erratic games.

Young teams are bound to produce such moments regularly. So, it is not entirely a surprise that Chelsea continues to deliver such dramatic matches every week.

Mauricio Pochettino understands the same and has reflected that building a young team takes time. “We know the quality of the players. The only problem is (that) it takes time to build a team. That is the reality, the fans need to be patient,” said the Chelsea manager in a press conference after losing 4-1 to title challengers Liverpool.

At a club like Chelsea, where ambitions – and, as a consequence, expectations – are sky-high, on-field results are crucial to building trust among the players and with the fans. However, when looking at the league table, Chelsea fans see very little progress this season from the last.

Nevertheless, Pochettino has improved Chelsea from the dire static playstyle of the last campaign. Especially, in terms of their goal output. However, defensively, the Blues have been much leakier – conceding more goals this season compared to 2022/23. A significant reason for this has been none other than themselves.

Costly moments of self-destruction

Chelsea fans have been left frustrated in numerous games this season for many reasons. But none hurt more than when the team shoots themselves in the foot, for which the ramifications are costly as they miss out on collecting valuable points.

Against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Moises Caicedo is easily dispossessed in central midfield having lost control of the ball. The move results in the visitors doubling their lead before leaving Stamford Bridge with a 4-2 victory.

Robert Sánchez’s incapacity to catch a cross in Chelsea’s away tie against Everton leads to Lewis Dobbin securing a 2-0 win in the 90th minute.

Thiago Silva, the experienced veteran who commits very few mistakes, was left in agony when his misstep fostered Newcastle United from running away with a dominant victory after converting the generous opportunity presented by the Brazilian.

And against Arteta’s high-flying Arsenal, Chelsea capitulated after Sánchez misplaced a pass that was meant for Enzo Fernandez. Instead, the pass went to Declan Rice, who converted. That game ended in a draw despite the Blues were leading 2-0.

These are just some examples of the Blues collapsing after self-inflicted blunders that have cost points. However, there have been more instances of Chelsea suffering from unforced errors but saving their blushes after turning the result around.

The most recent case was against United where Caicedo’s mislaid pass for Benoît Badiashile was pounced upon by the eventual goalscorer Alejandro Garnacho. But Chelsea dramatically turned the fixture around after their starlet Cole Palmer scored a last-minute winner.

Against Leeds United in the FA Cup, Axel Diasi’s miscued pass to Caicedo was intercepted and then converted into a goal by Mateo Joseph. However, another 90th-minute winner was scored by Conor Gallagher to save Pochettino’s blushes.

In the same competition but this time in the quarterfinals, Disasi scored a ridiculous own goal after attempting a back pass to the goalkeeper which instead chipped over Sánchez to make it 2-1 for Leicester City. Chelsea, again, turned it around to win the fixture 4-2.

Criticism directed at Pochettino for his tactical shortcomings this season is justified but it would be unfair to judge his performance purely based on Chelsea’s league position.

The Argentine coach has dealt with numerous injuries that have destabilized the squad. It has also limited his tactical flexibility. That has resulted in a dressing room short of confidence and identity. On top of these various issues has been the Chelsea players’ tendency to self-destruct.

All these uncontrollable factors have derailed the Blues to midtable but are still within arm’s reach of sixth position, which is not ideal, but is realistic and can guarantee European competition for next season.

Chelsea is performing far from where they hope to be and it is down to the manager to alter their course. But if the player keeps imploding, there is very little Pochettino could do.

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