Avoiding Pochettino's Pitfalls: 3 Lessons for Maresca at Chelsea

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2. Prioritize Player Positioning: Establishing Fundamental Tactics

One of the most frustrating aspects for Chelsea fans at the beginning of the season was Mauricio Pochettino's constant misuse of players. Despite having at least three left-backs available, Pochettino persistently played Levi Colwill, a center-back, at left-back. Lewis Hall, one of the few standout players in the 2022-23 season, was not given a chance and was soon sent out on loan to Newcastle with an obligation to buy.

Meanwhile, Pochettino played Ben Chilwell, a natural left-back, as a left winger even when players like Mykhailo Mudryk, Raheem Sterling, and Noni Madueke were available. Additionally, he refused to give Ian Maatsen a chance to play in his preferred left-back position. When Maatsen was given an opportunity, it was in the wings or as a central attacking midfielder. Maatsen, who was later sent on loan to Borussia Dortmund, helped them reach the Champions League final, highlighting Pochettino's questionable decisions.

Pochettino also occasionally deployed Axel Disasi at right-back, even when senior right-backs were available, and did not attempt to integrate any academy players aside from giving Alfie Gilchrist a decent run with the team. His attempts to play Conor Gallagher as a number 10 or on the wings also failed to yield positive results.

While playing players out of position is not inherently bad, it requires context and proper execution. For example, Pochettino's decision to move Marc Cucurella to central midfield alongside Moises Caicedo when Chelsea were in possession worked well. Similarly, shifting Nicolas Jackson to the wings during transitions helped the team. However, these were in-game management decisions where players primarily stuck to their usual positions.

There are successful examples of players starting in different positions, such as David Luiz playing in midfield despite being a center-back, and recently, John Stones and Manuel Akanji playing in midfield under Pep Guardiola for Manchester City. These changes were made to enhance the team's performance and utilize the players' abilities effectively. In contrast, Pochettino made these positional changes at Chelsea without establishing a basic structure or identity for the team. He tried to implement too much before the fundamentals were in place, which ultimately undermined the team's cohesion and performance.