With the summer transfer window heading into its final days, there are no prizes for guessing which Premier League club has spent the most on new players.
For the third window in a row, Chelsea have blown their rivals out of the water, signing 12 new players – and counting – to add to the 19 that joined last season.
The unprecedented overhaul of the squad has raised eyebrows across Europe – with rivals keen to see how Chelsea plan on complying with Financial Fair Play rules – while the instability contributed to the downfalls of Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard.
But Mauricio Pochettino, the fifth head coach – including interim appointments – to have taken charge of Chelsea under Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali’s ownership, is taking the radical reshaping of his squad in his stride.
“That was the idea of Paul [Winstanley] and Laurence [Stewart], the sporting directors, and the club,” Pochettino told Sky Sports in an exclusive interview ahead of Chelsea’s home game against Luton, live on Friday Night Football.
“They presented the project of the club, with players in and players out. When I accepted, I accepted knowing what was going to happen in the squad.”
The average age of Chelsea’s squad has been dramatically lowered. None of their new recruits are over 25, while Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell and Raheem Sterling are the only outfield players aged 26 or above.
By contrast, nine of the Manchester City XI that won the Champions League last season were over 25. The Real Madrid side that lifted the trophy a year earlier featured eight players in that category.
With Pochettino stating upon arrival that the expectations at Chelsea require his team to win, is he not concerned at the lack of experience at his disposal?
“It’s about having the right balance,” he explains. “We have young players but with experience and quality.
“It’s not a big issue.”
Chelsea signings, summer 2023
- Nicolas Jackson – Villarreal, £32m
- Christopher Nkunku – RB Leipzig, £52m
- Alex Matos – Norwich, undisclosed
- Diego Moreira – Benfica, undisclosed
- Ishe Samuels-Smith – Everton, £4m
- Angelo Gabriel – Santos, undisclosed
- Lesley Ugochukwu – Rennes, £23.1m
- Axel Disasi – Monaco, £38.8m
- Robert Sanchez – Brighton, £25m
- Moises Caicedo – Brighton, £115m
- Romeo Lavia – Southampton, £58m
- Deivid Washington – Santos, £17.1m
Pochettino is also unconcerned by Chelsea’s start to the season, saying there is “nothing to worry” him despite seeing his side take just one point from their opening two games.
The most recent of those matches was a chastening 3-1 defeat at West Ham which included Moises Caicedo – the British record £115m signing from Brighton – giving away a penalty during a calamitous debut from the bench.
But Pochettino is convinced of the qualities of the Ecuadorian, who Chelsea will surely hope follows in the footsteps of a recently-departed club hero.
“I never worked with [N’Golo] Kante but he [Caicedo] is one of the best midfielders in the Premier League,” said Pochettino when asked whether the 21-year-old can fill the boots left by the France international.
“He has some similar characteristics to Kante but Moises is still young and needs to work really hard to improve in different areas.
“But he has the potential to be one of the best.”
The prospect of pairing Caicedo with Enzo Fernandez, the player he replaced as the most expensive in British history after just seven months, is tantalising – and Pochettino is determined to bring the best out of his fellow Argentine.
Fernandez was often deployed as a holding midfielder under Potter and Lampard but Pochettino quickly sought out the World Cup winner to explain why he would be moving him into a new role.
“He is a No 8,” insisted Pochettino. “One of the first things when we met him is to talk about his position and how he feels comfortable, and then to talk about his quality.
“He needs some freedoms. He has the quality to assist, to shoot from outside the box.”
It’s not just the midfield that Pochettino has rejigged. After spending much of last season with Kai Havertz playing as a false – almost reluctant – No 9, the head coach appears to have placed his faith in a very different kind of player in the form of Nicolas Jackson.
“He can play like a traditional striker into the box and he can play outside of the box,” said Pochettino. “His quality, technically, he can link in the build-up, then he can go and run in behind the defensive line.
“He’s fast and he’s a very good profile of striker. He’s still young and it’s his first season in the Premier League but, with time, he’s going to perform and score goals.”
Jackson looks exciting, but the identity of the players creating his goals remains an issue for Chelsea. The only Blues player to feature in the Premier League’s top 20 for assists over the last three seasons was Mason Mount – and he now plays for Manchester United.
Meanwhile, Christopher Nkunku – the versatile forward signed from RB Leipzig for £52m – and Carney Chukwuemeka are injured, leading Pochettino to admit his team must try to “compensate” in that area.
“We have [Conor] Gallagher and we have Enzo, who we can use as an eight or a 10. We are going to adapt.
“We are a little bit unlucky because we suffered a few injuries in that position – a key position and key players. But that can happen. We need to accept it and be positive.”
Adapting to situations has been a common theme of Pochettino’s brief time in west London.
When he arrived, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Edouard Mendy were his goalkeepers. But just weeks later, the head coach finds Robert Sanchez – who was dropped by Brighton last season before joining Chelsea this summer – as his currently undisputed No 1.
“We found the circumstances when we arrived here,” Pochettino reflected. “It’s a massive challenge for Robert to come here and assume the responsibility to be No 1.
“He came from Brighton – tough season – but I think the club believe in him. We believe in him.”
Another player enjoying the faith placed in him by Pochettino is Levi Colwill, a team-mate of Sanchez’s at Brighton last season who is now embedded in the Blues’ defence.
It’s a unit that has attracted attention in the opening weeks of the season, with Pochettino deploying a four-player defence out of possession, which becomes a three-player outfit once the ball has been regained.
Pochettino explains the tactic – which sees Chilwell become a left winger while Colwill, Thiago Silva and Axel Disasi remain in defence – provides his side with a platform to build possession from the back, adding: “For the teams we played, maybe it is better to build with three.
“But sometimes we are going to use a back four, or two and use different midfielders. Always we try to find the best way to have the dynamic and to move the ball quick, past the first line of pressure of the opponent.”
Chelsea enjoyed most of the ball against Liverpool and West Ham but have just one point to show for it, with Pochettino admitting his side “need to learn” the lessons of their trip to the London Stadium ahead of a meeting with a Luton side that he describes as “amazing”.
“It’s not time to think in a different way,” he said. “I saw very positive things and we need to keep the positives and improve in the areas we need to improve.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s a very physical team, Luton, that do very good things. We know very well what we are going to find. We need to be competitive and clear in the way we are going to play and defend.
“We need to improve from last week and then the consequence is to have the three points. But the most important thing is the way we are going to play – it’s not only to win.
“Sometimes you win games but, in the end, you go down. But if you wait a little bit, with patience to build something, maybe the results will not arrive when you are playing well but you can be consistent and end the season where you deserve to be.”
For Pochettino, there is no reason to be concerned amid a winless start. In fact, his belief in the potential of his players is unwavering.
“They are good feelings but we cannot translate them into points,” he says. “We keep working and the players are really committed to the way we want to play.
“It is a process. We need to wait but for sure we are going to be really successful in the future.”
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