Why Pochettino should start fullbacks moving forward

Chelsea beat Newcastle last week in the EFL Cup, advancing to the semifinals. In a game where Newcastle took the lead quite early on, Chelsea dominated most of the game. Chelsea, however, could not make something of their opportunities until much later into the game with substitutions making a huge difference.

A formation change saw the game turn around for Mauricio Pochettino’s side. This was a key reason as to why a late equalizer by Mykhalio Mudryk was possible, allowing the game to go to penalties.

The formation change showed how Pochettino should have chosen the starting 11 in order to give Chelsea the upper hand. It also showed how Pochettino should choose ahead of Sunday’s Premier League loss against Wolves.

However, the starting lineup looked somewhat similar to what Chelsea had for the Newcastle game. This is a decision that arguably lost Chelsea the game against Wolves.

To have a better understanding, let us have a look at why Chelsea’s starting lineup gave them a slow and poor start against Newcastle. We can then look at how the changes made a positive and obvious impact.

No natural fullbacks

Pochettino’s starting 11 was a bit baffling considering that the backline consisted of four center backs. Axel Disasi started at right-back, Thiago Silva and Benoite Badiashile as the centrebacks, and Levi Colwill as the left-back. Neither of these four players are natural fullbacks.

Looking at Chelsea’s injury list ahead of the game, it makes sense why there was a lack of fullbacks in the starting line-up. The absence of the club’s captain and first-choice right-back Reece James, and left backs Marc Cucurella as well as vice-captain Ben Chillwell due to injury already limited Pochettino’s choices.

In the game prior to the Newcastle fixture, Malo Gusto made a return from injury to join the team during stoppage time against Sheffield United. His late entry was evidence that he wouldn’t be able to start against Newcastle – another limitation for Pochettino.

However, left-back Ian Maatsen, a proven young talent was available for selection but was benched instead.

Early change leads to more problems

Enzo Fernandez was taken off in the 32nd minute, with Pochettino later confirming the midfielder had been feeling unwell before the game. In Enzo’s place, Armando Broja was brought on. Nicolas Jackson in turn dropped left to serve as a left winger, with Broja up front. Cole Palmer moved in to play as a 10, and Raheem Sterling became the right winger.


With no natural fullbacks on the pitch, Chelsea was already losing out in terms of width. Neither of the fullbacks were pressing up high to counter-press and overlap the wingers.

Additionally, Jackson playing in an unnatural position as a winger, created even more problems for the Blues. Jackson was often playing narrow, and joining Broja up front, leaving massive gaps on the left side. As for the right wing, Sterling was often left isolated, with Disasi not closing up enough to offer support.

Gusto and Maatsen making the difference

Both Gusto and Maatsen were substituted into Tuesday night’s game, and their impact was obvious.

Levi Colwill who appeared exhausted in the closing minutes of the first half did not return for action in the second half. Pochettino brought Malo Gusto on in Colwill’s place, a tactical decision that improved Chelsea’s game after a slow first half.

The addition of Gusto instantly allowed Chelsea to have a more aggressive counter-press. Disasi also improved his performance, providing more support to the right wing, with Chelsea then seemingly taking on a 2-4-3-1 formation.

Gusto often overlapped with Jackson, allowing the Senegalese to drift into the box and make runs towards the byline. Chelsea’s attack then became more of a threat to Newcastle‘s defence compared to the first half.

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Ian Maatsen was brought on in the 78th minute, replacing Disasi. He was also an instant positive, providing support in the final third during counterattacks.

Malo Gusto was the reason Chelsea had the opportunity to equalize during stoppage time. Gusto delivered a cross which Kieran Trippier was the first to get to, but poor handling led to Mudryk using the defender’s mistake to take the ball and land it into the back of the net halfway into stoppage time.

Mudryk’s equalizer meant that the game would go straight into penalties. The Blues scored all their penalties, whilst Kieran Tripper missed his, and Chelsea goalkeeper Djordje Petrović saved a penalty, allowing Chelsea to advance to the semifinals.

Among the penalty scorers was Christopher Nkunku, who made his official Chelsea debut shortly after the hour-mark of the game. Despite missing out on months of action, the Frenchman along with Mudryk were an obvious threat to Newcastle’s backline.

The change in direction after the substitutions gave a clear sign as to what would be the better option for Wolves.

What went wrong at Wolves?

With Malo Gusto announced in the starting XI in the right-back position, there was some hope for the Blues.

However, Colwill was once again chosen as the left-back, and Jackson as the left winger – a link up that the Newcastle game disapproved.

The first half was once again slow, with the left side looking particularly weak, especially compared to the right side where a natural winger and a natural fullback started.

Maatsen was eventually brought on as left-back, but Gusto was taken off. Disasi dropped to right-back – another move disapproved by the Newcastle game.

Maatsen was brought on at the same time as Mudryk and Nkunku. These three players added to Chelsea’s attacking threat against Newcastle and Wolves.

Nkunku was able to net in a goal in stoppage time, but Wolves had already scored two ahead of Pochettino’s side.


Yes, defensive errors and a lack of confidence in the front three lost Chelsea the game, but the formation chosen definitely did cost Chelsea what could have been a win.

Chelsea faces Crystal Palace next, a game where many will be looking to see who Pochettino decides to start after such clear signs. The Argentine is facing a lot of pressure, but with Chelsea sitting 10th in the Premier League table, patience is running thin.

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