Baffling decisions mean Pochettino remains under pressure despite Palace win

Cameron Smith
Cameron Smith
  • 28 Dec 2023 08:32 GMT
  • 5 min read
Mauricio Pochettino, Chelsea
© ProShots

Noni Madueke’s late penalty against Crystal Palace ensured Chelsea won just their seventh Premier League game of the season on Wednesday night, with Mauricio Pochettino’s future at Stamford Bridge now looking slightly safer.

Despite a very promising first-half display, the Blues were somewhat fortunate to escape with all three points.

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Palace have now lost 12 games in a row against Chelsea, but they almost snatched a point after Michael Olise scored a tremendous volley versus his former club in first-half stoppage time.

However, with the game edging towards its conclusion, Madueke was fouled by Eberechi Eze just inside the 18-yard box and the England U21 international slotted home the resulting penalty in the 89th minute.

The win has given Pochettino some much-needed respite following serious calls for his head after the 2-1 loss to Wolves on Christmas Eve.

Despite the win over Crystal Palace, however, the Chelsea head coach remains on the brink of the sack, at least in the eyes of the Blues fanbase, following a dismal run of results.

While the Stamford Bridge outfit were unlucky to pick up so few points at the start of the season, with good performances not rewarded, their form has tailed off and lacklustre displays have become normality.

Palace haven’t tasted victory in the Premier League since November 4 (the longest winless streak in the division), yet it took an 89th penalty for Chelsea to see off Roy Hodgson’s side.

Mauricio Pochettino close to Chelsea sacking?

Pochettino was sometimes criticised for his lack of tactical innovation during his time at Paris Saint-Germain and the game has certainly moved on since his excellent spell at Tottenham Hotspur.

It remains an issue at Chelsea and the Blues have struggled to build up through the phases this campaign, while breaking down deep blocks is a huge issue.

Against Crystal Palace, the attacking blueprint was fairly obvious. Levi Colwill would tuck in from left-back, to allow Malo Gusto to push forward from right-back, forming a back three alongside Axel Disasi and Benoit Badiashile.

Gusto’s advanced position on the right meant Ian Maatsen would drift inside to the half-spaces and create an overload in the middle of the park. The Dutchman was notably poor on the night, and Cole Palmer is better suited to that role, but the system seemed to work from an attacking point of view.

That changed in the second-half when Pochettino bizarrely altered the system and moved Gusto (Chelsea’s Man of the Match) to left-back, which almost killed their entire attacking threat.

Noni Madueke was introduced later on and given his tendency to hug the touchline, the presence of Disasi at right-back did make sense as the France international didn’t overlap like Gusto, meaning Madueke was given space to attack his full-back.

Regardless, Pochettino’s decision to move Gusto to left-back when Chelsea needed a goal was strange, as was the choice to shift Christopher Nkunku to the right wing before Madueke came on.

Furthermore, although playing Colwill at left-back works in possession as he can shift inside and push Gusto forward, the Englishman is really struggling when it comes to defending this campaign.

He was superb at centre-back for Brighton last season, but his new role is limiting his influence. Colwill’s tall frame means he isn’t able to turn quickly and defend effectively against tricky wingers and while his top speed is good, his initial acceleration is always slower than his direct opponent.

Levi Colwill has mostly played at left-back this season
© ProShots - Levi Colwill has mostly played at left-back this season

Michael Olise skipped past the former Brighton loanee on a number of occasions on Wednesday night and Pochettino’s reluctance to deploy Maatsen at left-back remains a bizarre one, even when considering the Dutchman’s lack of physical strength.

Colwill is not a left-back and his true potential won’t be reached unless Pochettino moves him back to his natural centre-back position.

It’s worth noting the former Spurs boss has been severely impacted by Chelsea’s injury crisis and it has been over a year since the Blues had an injury list with less than three or four key names included.

However, his in-game decisions haven’t been ideal in recent weeks and Chelsea need to start dominating games with ease or talk of being sacked will continue to remain prevalent.

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