Chelsea ending woeful 2023 with Mauricio Pochettino’s side facing more questions than answers | Football News


In the analysis of yet another underwhelming Chelsea result and performance at Wolves on Christmas Eve, one statistic was particularly eye-catching.

In 2023, no Premier League side has lost more than Chelsea’s 19 matches in the top flight. Indeed, only three teams in Europe’s top five leagues – Almeria, Werder Bremen and Empoli – can beat that number.

But unlike Chelsea, that trio are not five-time Premier League winners and have not spent more than £1bn on new players in the past three transfer windows.

For Chelsea to find themselves in this position, closer to the relegation zone than the top four, is remarkable. Mauricio Pochettino projects positivity but can he genuinely return Chelsea to Europe, or is mid-table the Blues’ new reality?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Wolves and Chelsea

Where’s the No 9?

Any analysis of Chelsea’s struggles inevitably has to start in attack. The Blues have missed 36 of their 57 big chances in the Premier League this season – the worst record in the league.

What’s more, only Manchester United have a larger negative differential between their expected goals and goals scored than Chelsea’s -6.8.

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Mauricio Pochettino says his team were punished for not being clinical in the defeat to Wolves

The need for a proven No 9 is obvious yet, despite their record outlay in the transfer market, Chelsea’s strikers are Nicolas Jackson and Armando Broja.

Until April, Jackson had scored two top-flight goals in his entire career. Broja has started seven games for Chelsea.

The fact the club have spent so much money yet failed to properly address the most important area of the pitch is confounding. As Jamie Redknapp said, it’s hard to take them seriously until they rectify their issues at No 9.

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Jamie Redknapp says he cannot take Chelsea seriously without a No 9 in their side

Money well spent?

Chelsea’s pivot towards investing in youth has been clear, with just three of the 28 players they have signed since Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali’s takeover aged over 25 when they arrived.

That has inevitably led to Pochettino stressing the need for time. But he has also stressed the need for Chelsea to once again become a club that competes for trophies and, more than 18 months since the takeover, it’s fair to ask whether some of the players brought into the club are capable of meeting those standards.

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 17: Mykhaylo Mudryk of Chelsea passes the ball during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Chelsea FC at Vitality Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Bournemouth, England. (Photo by Chris Lee - Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Mykhailo Mudryk has just two Premier League goals since signing in January

In fact, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that, of the 28 players to have signed, Cole Palmer – a player with three Premier League starts to his name upon arrival – is the only one that could currently be graded as an unqualified success.

Enzo Fernandez has had his moments but, nearly 12 months after arriving as a World Cup winner for a club-record fee, Chelsea surely expected more than three goals and three assists in 42 games.

It’s now several seasons since Raheem Sterling produced the form that made him a regular starter for Manchester City and England, while there is the realistic possibility that Robert Sanchez will lose his status as No 1 to Djordje Petrovic.

Axel Disasi, Benoit Badiashile and Marc Cucurella have failed to convince in defence. In midfield, Moises Caicedo is yet to come close to replicating his performances for Brighton, while Romeo Lavia has been prevented from even making his debut due to injury.

It’s a similar story in attack. Some supporters jeered Jackson when he was replaced at Wolves after another unconvincing display, while Mykhailo Mudryk has scored twice in 31 Premier League games.

The Ukraine international has failed to justify the hype – something that could be said about most of those to arrive at Stamford Bridge in recent time.

Chelsea’s next five games

  • Crystal Palace (H) – Premier League, Wednesday December 27, kick-off 7.30pm
  • Luton (A) – Premier League, Saturday December 30, kick-off 12.30pm
  • Preston (H) – FA Cup, Saturday January 6, kick-off 5.30pm
  • Middlesbrough (A) – Carabao Cup, Tuesday January 9, kick-off 8pm
  • Fulham (H) – Premier League, Saturday January 13, kick-off 12.30pm

Lack of discipline sums up leadership issues

The obvious outcome of a club investing heavily in youth is that they end up with a squad lacking in experience.

Chelsea’s squad contains just three outfield players – Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell and Sterling – aged over 26. Again, this appears to be an issue that is hampering Pochettino’s project.

Surprisingly, Chelsea are the only Premier League side not to have been losing any game at half-time this season. Yet they have lost 44 per cent of their matches. That repeated capacity to collapse points to an inability to manage games.

Pochettino’s side also rank second in the top flight for yellow cards, collecting an average of 3.2 per match. Of the six they collected at Wolves, four were given for dissent or diving.

Nicolas Jackson is closed down by Max Kilman
Nicolas Jackson was jeered by sections of Chelsea’s support at Wolves

Jackson’s disciplinary woes have been the most obvious, with five of the forward’s eight bookings being handed out for dissent, while Sterling has received yellow cards for simulation in each of his last two games.

The ill-discipline is a symptom of Chelsea’s lack of leadership.

Will Pochettino get what he wants in January?

With just two wins – one of which was on penalties – in their last five games, and with the January window just days away, talk has again turned to the possibility of further signings at Stamford Bridge.

But here, too, lies trouble. Chelsea’s transfer business is overseen by Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley, the co-sporting directors – a situation Pochettino said he “accepted” when he took over.

Yet the manager has already called to be given greater influence over recruitment and responded to this month’s defeat at Everton by encouraging the club to invest further in January, saying his squad was “missing something”.

Whether Pochettino’s demands are met by Chelsea remains to be seen. The then-Tottenham boss was similarly keen for signings in the summer of 2019, believing the squad that reached the Champions League final needed to be refreshed.

The desired overhaul never materialised and Pochettino was sacked just months into the following season.

A similar scenario seems unlikely at Chelsea but the Conor Gallagher situation will be an intriguing case study. The England international is a regular in Pochettino’s team and often wears the captain’s armband in the absence of Reece James and Chilwell.

Chelsea have lost four consecutive away Premier League games for the first time since December 2000 under Claudio Ranieri (a run of five)
Conor Gallagher has just 18 months remaining on on his Chelsea contract

Pochettino told Sky Sports this month Gallagher is “a player that we count on,” adding: “He’s in our plan.”

Yet there appears little sign of the 23-year-old agreeing an extension to his contract, which has just 18 months still to run. In fact, Chelsea are reportedly open to his departure, given a sizeable transfer fee would help to offset their heavy spending.

It’s hard to imagine Pochettino responding favourably were Gallagher to be sold despite his desire to retain the academy graduate.

Mid-table malaise has set in

Chelsea were reigning world champions when Boehly and Eghbali arrived, while they had only been dethroned as European champions just days earlier.

Yet after unprecedented spending, Chelsea finished 12th last season and remain in the bottom half midway through this campaign.

The west Londoners are long past the point of being able to cast their struggles as teething problems, or a blip.

A malaise has set in and Chelsea have spent the past 12 months cut adrift from Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal – the sides they used to see as their peers.

The longer that goes on, the harder it will be to catch up.

Follow Chelsea vs Crystal Palace with our live blog across Sky Sports’ digital platforms on Wednesday; kick-off 7.30pm. Watch free highlights shortly after full-time.

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