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Did Chelsea improve under Mauricio Pochettino?

Just one day after the conclusion of the 2023/24 Premier League season, Mauricio Pochettino and Chelsea parted ways by mutual consent, the diplomatic term for a sacking.

Many were left scratching their heads, as the Blues ended their season with five-straight wins, secured European football, narrowly lost out to Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final, and their 35 points in 2024 were only bettered by Liverpool, Arsenal, and Manchester City.

Pochettino seemed like the perfect man for the job, but perhaps it was our fault for being so presumptuous – this is Chelsea we’re talking about.

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Pochettino’s tenure at Stamford Bridge lasted just 11 months

The Blues have operated ruthlessly towards their managers for two decades, but Pochettino’s sacking would have even raised the eyebrow of Mr Roman Abramovich himself. Under Abramovic the assignment was straightforward, every manager had access to his treasure chest and the expectation was to win.

Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital came into the club prophesising about their long-term project for the club. A different philosophy that could harness similar results, centered around young players they could build with for the future.

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Boehly (L) and Behdad Eghbali (R) have been the co-controlling owners of Chelsea since May 2022
Two years, 34 signings, five managers, and a billion pounds later, it seems they are cut from the same cloth as Mr Abramovich himself, just minus the silverware. Pochettino’s tenure lasted just 11 months, but in that short time, we were beginning to see an upturn in the Blues’ form.

 More points, more wins, higher league finish

In 2022/23 Chelsea broke all the wrong records. Their tally of 44 points was their lowest ever in a Premier League season. The club’s 12th-place finish was their lowest ever in a 38-game season, 11 wins marked their fewest in a top-flight campaign, and 16 losses was their highest in the Premier League season.

The bar for improvement was undoubtedly low for Pochettino in his first season, but he steadied the ship in disarray before his arrival. Chelsea’s 63 points in 2023/24 saw them finish just five points off the top four, in 2022/23 their 44 points had them eight points off neighbors Fulham in 10th, and a staggering 27 points off Newcastle in fourth.

 More goals, more assists

Chelsea scored just 38 goals across the 2022/23 Premier League season for an average of just one goal a game. To put that into context, Leicester City and Leeds United who were both relegated outscored the Blues with 51 and 48 respectively.

Pochettino’s Chelsea more than doubled their goal output from the preceding season with 77 and were only outscored by Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Newcastle in the 2023/24 Premier League season.

The fact the Blues outperformed their expected goals (xG) and matched their expected assists (xA) in 2023/24 showed they were more clinical in front of goal than in 2022/23, despite their continuing need for a consistent goal scorer.

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Cole Palmer led Chelsea with 22 goals and 11 assists during the 2023/24 Premier League campaign

Football has and will continue to evolve, but one thing that will always remain is the necessity to put the ball in the back of the net – which Pochettino’s Chelsea side did.

 More shots, more chances created

This was not a coincide either, as Chelsea made more of an impression on the opposition’s goal in 2023/24 than they did in the preceding season. Although their 537 shots were dwarfed by Liverpool’s league-leading 790, their 194 shots on target were only bettered by Arsenal (222), Liverpool (263), and Manchester City (266).

Only Liverpool (102), Manchester City (97), Newcastle United (97), and Tottenham Hotspur (90) created more big chances than Chelsea during the 2023/24 campaign. However, the Blues did miss 73 of those big chances throughout the season.

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Nicolas Jackson missed 24 big chances throughout the 2023/24 season, only Darwin Núñez (27) and Erling Haaland (34) missed more

However, outside of Arsenal (63), the four high-scoring teams in the league in Chelsea, Manchester City (73), Liverpool (79), and Newcastle United (70) all missed the most big chances.

So the metrics tell us that the teams who create more tend to miss more, but as a consequence also convert more.

 More goals conceded, less clean sheets

Despite their potency going forward, Pochettino’s Chelsea side showed defensive fragility throughout the 2023/24 campaign. Their 63 goals conceded was their most-ever in a Premier League season, and their eight clean sheets were well behind Arsenal’s league-leading 18.

Chelsea conceded 13 goals more than their expected goals against (xGA) in 2023/24, a stark increase from 2022/23, prompting us to analyse the performances of goalkeepers Robert Sanchez and Djordje Petrović.

Robert Sanchez began the season as Chelsea’s first-choice goalkeeper. But after sustaining a knee injury in their 2-1 defeat against Manchester United at Old Trafford in December, Djordje Petrović took over goalkeeping duties.

Despite Petrović facing more shots against him and making more saves than Sanchez, partly due to him playing 554 more minutes, both goalkeepers had similar save and clean sheet percentages.

Sanchez’s 70.5 save percentage was only bettered by Alphonse Areola, Nick Pope, André Onana, and Alisson Becker among first-choice goalkeepers in the Premier League.

Therefore, criticism of Pochettino’s side defensively was warranted, as their poor defensive record could not be attributed to the under performance of their goalkeepers.

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The Blues will also be without Thiago Silva next season

Chelsea under Pochettino did have their flaws and they were a work in progress, but considering they had the second youngest average starting 11 in the Premier League at 24 years (y) and 280 days (d), only behind Burnley (24y, 257d), it is fair to say that Pochettino’s first season was a success.

European football, a Carabao Cup final, and an FA Cup semi-final were solid foundations to build from. But now, the Blues are on the verge of their sixth manager in just two years.

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Former Leicester City boss Enzo Maresca recently signed a five-year deal to become Chelsea’s next head coach

Hopefully, Maresca will be set more realistic expectations than Pochettino was, rather than being tasked to pull rabbits out of hats.

 

Author

  • Emile Nuh

    Emile Nuh is a Sports Journalist who predominantly focuses on Formula 1 and Basketball. He did have a prior interest in Football, however the Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital Consortium takeover of Chelsea quickly put an end to that. Like many journalists Emile also has a “I could have made it pro if it wasn’t for my...story”. In his case, he attributes his dodgy shoulder as the one that brought an end to his sporting aspirations