Most managers face the daunting task of trying to win over the fanbase when they take the reins at a new club. But for Mauricio Pochettino at Chelsea, it is a little different. The Argentine enjoyed five years at Tottenham Hotspur and was involved in some fiery London derbies during his time at Spurs, none more so than the infamous ‘Battle of the Bridge’ in 2016, when the Blues denied Pochettino’s side the opportunity to win the Premier League.
Given Chelsea’s turbulent first season under co-owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital last year, in which Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard took to the dugout, the west London club’s supporters would have been keen for a sense of stability this season. After all, the Blues have found themselves in choppy waters since the British government imposed sanctions on previous owner Roman Abramovich and forced him to sell the club.
Pochettino was the man the Chelsea chiefs opted for to steady the ship and attempt to make the Blues more favourable in the Premier League title odds once again. It wasn’t a decision that went down terribly with the bulk of the Stamford Bridge faithful, but some certainly had their reservations given the 51-year-old former ties with their cross-city archnemeses Tottenham.
But even the most sceptical of Chelsea fans must like what they have seen in the early days of the Pochettino era. He has got the club’s transition moving rapidly, with a lot of ‘deadwood’ finally shifted and some promising new signings made — including Nicolas Jackson, Axel Disasi and Moises Caicedo, who broke the British record fee when moving from Brighton and Hove Albion for £115m.
Then there is the fine form displayed in pre-season. It isn’t always worth reading too much into the results from offseason tours around the globe, but there were plenty of positives to take away from Chelsea’s success in the inaugural ‘Premier League Summer Series’ and the performances of individuals like Jackson, Christopher Nkunku, Mykhailo Mudryk and Carney Chukwuemeka would have had fans purring for the start of the season.
The thing that would definitely have won the Chelsea fans over and have them actually looking forward to coming back to Stamford Bridge this season is their side’s performance in the 1-1 draw against Liverpool on the opening weekend of the 2022-23 Premier League campaign.
The Blues started proceedings rather slowly and were put to the sword for their sloppiness when former Chelsea player Mohamed Salah slid a lovely pass into the path of Luis Diaz for Liverpool’s opener. It could have been two as well, as Salah had the ball in the back of the net only to be deemed offside.
That was the kick up the backside the hosts needed and they soon grew into the game. Centre-back Disasi levelled the score and the roof came off Stamford Bridge when Ben Chilwell looked to have made it 2-1 — only for VAR to come to the conclusion that he was also offside. You could argue the Blues were unlucky not to win the game though, with Jackson also missing a few chances and Chelsea not taking advantage of their ability to slice open Liverpool’s defence.
A point in the first game of the season against a side like Jurgen Klopp’s is not to be sniffed at, however, and Pochettino will have been happy with the performance overall. The Chelsea fans certainly enjoyed it as the Shed End were in fine voice, but it will have all been for nothing if they can’t build on this performance and get maximum points against very beatable opponents in the form of West Ham United, Luton Town, Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth and so on.
Pochettino’s next big test arguably isn’t until Chelsea meet London rival Arsenal at Stamford Bridge on October 21. If his side can put together a solid string of results between now and then, the Blues could be in a very good position and in the right form to beat the Gunners for the first time since 2021.
Chelsea fans can turn on a manager very quickly, and given Pochettino’s ties with Tottenham, it probably won’t take them long to turn on the Argentine if results don’t go their way and they can’t build on this fine start.