Football News

Don’t blame Pochettino – Chelsea’s £100m ‘spine’ is not strong enough, says Frank Leboeuf

By Harry Edwards

Published: 9:55, 23 February 2024

Mauricio Pochettino should be the last to be blamed for the Blues’ problems this season, says former Chelsea defender Frank Leboeuf.

Pochettino was given the task of kick-starting Chelsea’s new project in the summer, with previous managers Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter both failing to inspire since the 2022 takeover.

Although Pochettino failed to pull up trees at Paris Saint-Germain, he retains his reputation for the work he did at Tottenham, lifting them from obscurity into the Premier League title challenge with a young squad including Dele Alli and Harry Kane.

It sounded like just what Chelsea needed after their 12th-placed finish in the Premier League last season where the Blues won just 11 of their 38 league games, losing 16 and finished the campaign with a negative goal difference.

Much was made about the money Chelsea spent, breaking the £1billion mark in the summer to assemble a mega squad which included two signings for over £100million. Yet Chelsea are currently 10th in the Premier League, with as many defeats as they have victories (10) after 25 games.

The Blues have reached the EFL Cup final, where they face Liverpool, and are still in the FA Cup. However, recent back-to-back defeats against Liverpool and Wolves — conceding four goals in both — saw some Chelsea fans call for Pochettino to lose his job.

But Pochettino held on and has since knocked Aston Villa out of the FA Cup and drawn 1-1 with Manchester City at the Etihad. Former defender Leboeuf isn’t entertaining the idea of Pochettino taking the brunt of the blame.

“First I want to say that for me, Pochettino has to be the last to be criticised,” Leboeuf told Squawka.

“He signed with all the problems already, the damages of that trading business and only getting young players instead of keeping some, but more than only Sterling and Thiago Silva, as experienced players. It’s not enough. I think the spine has to be stronger, even with £100m midfielders with (Moises) Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez, it’s not enough.

“They’re talented players, but they’re future players. And Chelsea, we only talk about the present because the future is for other teams, other clubs. Chelsea is not there anymore. So Pochettino can sometimes be blamed, but he’s the last for me to be blamed because the players on the field and the board have decided to put out that team, that squad. But winning the Carabao Cup will again bring the chemistry between the players, and memories between them.

“That’s going to […] make them stick to each otherand work harder because they will appreciate each other. It’s what happened to us at the beginning of my time with Chelsea, when we won the FA Cup, it glued us forever. And the year after, we became stronger and we kept on winning. We were already experienced players, we had to know each other better. And I won six trophies in five years. And that’s what happens when you feel good inside the dressing room.

“And that’s what it is for Chelsea. You can feel it at City, at Aston Villa, at Tottenham right now, and Liverpool as well. You feel that the players, they like playing with each other and they understand each other. And it’s what the players at Chelsea have to find, and that’s crucial.”

Leboeuf continued to give his verdict on Pochettino’s time at Chelsea so far, again speaking about the weight of the job, dubbing it a mess at his former club.

He added: “Well, what we see right now is maybe the beginning of what he is trying to do. But at first when he signed, people asked me “do you think it’s a good choice?” I said, nothing is a good choice. Nobody is a good choice, because it’s a big mess, because you jumbled everything by taking only inexperienced players who don’t know each other, who don’t know how to keep a result, who don’t know how to finish an action. Except with Thiago Silva, who for me is a great player, but he’s a little bit slow, so you can see now when the pace of the game, they can be a danger, when they’re more direct, they can be a danger.

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“And this may be what Pochettino is looking for, having players who are capable of being fast in transition. It’s what happened against Aston Villa, against City, we also saw that against Tottenham. It’s only when they start playing faster, that they’re good. That’s the team, who has to play that. When they start to play against teams who are at the back, just only defend against the team at the back, they wander too much and they start to play tiki taka, useless tiki taka, because they never finish anything.

“So maybe we can see the light at the end of the tunnel with Pochettino, with the games that we saw lately, with more pace, better finishing, (Christopher) Nkunku is back. Even if he wasn’t that good against City, I think it’s going to be a plus. And if (Cole) Palmer can carry on like that, if in the middle of the park they can fight, with (Conor) Gallagher, Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez that way, and the young defence – but the good defence, the young players. I mean, what they did against City, we are talking about playing against the cyborg, and so many other talented players and wow, they’ve been outstanding. So if they can repeat that, we can talk about the beautiful work of Pochettino.”

As mentioned, Chelsea are on a mini run of form, now unbeaten in three including the cup win over Aston Villa and draw against Manchester City. Coming either side of a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace, some Chelsea fans are feeling positive about the club, though they have been here before this season. After Christmas, Chelsea went on a run of five wins from six games, with the only defeat coming against Middlesbrough in the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final — which the Blues won 6-2 on aggregate.

But Leboeuf isn’t getting ahead of himself. The Frenchman has conceded that this season is practically over for Chelsea, instead looking to the work done to prepare for next season. And he’s not too optimistic, particularly when it comes to making the right transfers.

“Well, winning a cup is always great, but really, I’m not that optimistic. I’m realistic,” he said.

“And I think, what you have to do right now is build a squad who next season can be efficient enough to maybe aim for the fourth spot. Because that’s what it is, you have to be realistic. We have to stop dreaming, and it’s not after two games, two good games, that I’m going to change my mind. I still think it’s a shamble. I want to see what they’re going to do next season, with some players they’re going to recruit. But because of their trading business, I’m not hoping for anything.

“So, it’s like, wait and see. What are they going to do? How are they going to cope with the situation? But again, I’m with the fans. Chelsea cannot wait any longer to be performing again. So until the end of the season, I’m not expecting anything. If they win a cup, it’s going to be a plus. But really next season, I’m going to be very upset if nothing happens.”

Frank Leboeuf was speaking to Squawka on behalf of BetVictor.