Thursday, May 23, 2024

Mauricio Pochettino: Chelsea would have struggled in Europe because of injuries

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 13 Apr 2024

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Mauricio Pochettino said he doubts whether Chelsea could have handled a European campaign this season as he has grappled with an injury crisis.

The Argentinian could be without 11 players for Monday’s game against Everton, with Enzo Fernandez and Raheem Sterling the latest doubts for the meeting at Stamford Bridge.

It has been the club’s first campaign without European competition since 2016/17, and only their second since 1996/97, following a 12th-place finish in the Premier League last season.

An unbeaten run of seven games, their longest in the league for almost 18 months, has put them in contention to reach either the Europa League or Conference League, whilst they could also qualify by winning the FA Cup.

But Pochettino said the team’s injury problems will need to be addressed if they are to take on more games next season.

“Imagine if we had played in Europe this season, with all the circumstances (injuries)? Oh my goodness,” said the 52-year-old.

“With a squad that is always between eight and 10 players missing in every single game. If you add more games, we would struggle a lot.

“Now it’s about experience, to have all the information to try to help the club to take the best decisions to avoid things like happened this season.

“That is out principal focus, to try to define a squad that can be fit, or have more than 80 per cent availability.”

Teams in previous seasons have benefited from having a season without European competition, taking time to regroup before following up with much improved campaigns the following year.

Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers in 2013/14 came within two points of winning the title whilst not having to contend with a European schedule, whilst Chelsea were crowned champions under Antonio Conte in 2016/17 a year after finishing 10th.

Mikel Arteta led Arsenal to a fifth-place finish in 2021/22, the club’s first without Europe in 26 years, during which the team showed significant progress that has led to them challenging for the title in consecutive seasons.

Pochettino countered that the situation at Chelsea, whose owners have spent over £1billion on assembling a young and largely inexperienced squad, cannot be compared to previous examples.

“Now, it’s completely different,” he said. “You cannot compare to Conte or Brendan Rodgers, it’s not fair. We are in a different Chelsea today.

“The conversation is always to win the next game, then the next and then the next, and see in which position we arrive.

“To have targets is always good. But to have a target it is to have all the elements on (your) side. With all the circumstances we are living (with injuries), it’s about trying to be competitive in the next game, not to put objectives that maybe you will get very frustrated if you don’t win some games that you are supposed to win.”

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