Chelsea 2023-24 end of season review

As the dust settles on another frenetic Premier League campaign and the 2023-24 season is in the books, it's time to reflect Chelsea’s interesting season under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino.
Chelsea FC v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League
Chelsea FC v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League / Ryan Pierse/GettyImages

Following a disappointing 2022/23 campaign, Chelsea's transition from the renowned Roman Abramovich era to the BlueCo era has been far from smooth. Todd Boehly and his consortium faced a turbulent first year leading the club, which included sacking two managers and finishing 12th in the Premier League, their lowest position since 1995-96, despite a record-breaking spending spree in the transfer market.

After months of extensive search (and a few rejections), co-sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley plucked out former Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino on a two-year contract. The main objective for the Argentine head coach was to secure a top-four finish, which is vital for only sporting reasons, but financially.

A very positive, and unbeaten 2023 preseason tour

After an enjoyable 5-0 victory over soon-to-be League One side Wrexham, Chelsea participated in the inaugural Premier League Summer Series. A 4-3 win against Brighton, a 1-1 draw against Newcastle, and a 2-0 victory over west London neighbors Fulham were enough to see the Blues lift the preseason trophy. While this preseason mini-league trophy understandably won't garner the fanfare of domestic and European major honors, many believed that the victory in the inaugural Premier League Summer Series could prove beneficial for Chelsea as they entered the crucial second season under their new ownership.

In fact, this new-look Blues team won more games in preseason than in their previous 15 matches and scored more goals than in their past 14, highlighting the depths of the 2022-23 season. It’s not just the numbers that stand out, but the performances as well. Unlike the disjointed side of last season, the players appeared more in sync, even with fresh signings and returning youngsters. Perhaps most exciting for Chelsea fans, after recent struggles in front of goal, was new forward Nicolas Jackson, who emerged as the most impressive player in preseason and looked to be a reliable goalscorer.

The ins and outs

Pochettino was busy bolstering his squad, welcoming a host of promising youngsters to Stamford Bridge during the summer transfer window.


Boehly and his consortium once again spent vast sums of money, breaking the British transfer record by signing Moises Caicedo from Brighton & Hove Albion in a deal reportedly worth around £115 million, outbidding Liverpool in the process.

The spending spree didn't stop there, as the Blues also secured the services of France internationals Christopher Nkunku and Axel Disasi from RB Leipzig and AS Monaco, respectively. Additionally, Spanish goalkeeper Robert Sanchez was brought in from Brighton & Hove Albion.

Chelsea also invested heavily in young talents worldwide. They signed Manchester City academy graduate Cole Palmer, Belgian wonderkid Romeo Lavia (again stole from Liverpool), Brazilian prospects Angelo, Deivid Washington, and Diego Moreira, showcasing the substantial the ownership’s investment and plan for the future.


Chelsea's sidelined players, Edouard Mendy and Kalidou Koulibaly, have emulated N'Golo Kante's departure from Chelsea, opting for a lucrative switch to the Saudi Pro League. Hakim Ziyech left for Galatasaray on loan (could be made permanent) along with Kepa Arrizabalaga to Real Madrid. Meanwhile, Mateo Kovacic transferred to Manchester City, and Kai Havertz joined Arsenal.

Mason Mount, a fan favorite, controversially joined rival Man United for a reported initial fee of £55 million, ending his 18-year tenure with Chelsea. Christian Pulisic, plagued by injuries during his time at Stamford Bridge, moved to Serie A powerhouse AC Milan finding himself again, along with Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Long-serving captain Cesar Azpilicueta returned to his native Spain to play for Atletico Madrid. Callum Hudson-Odoi also departed Stamford Bridge, securing a move to Nottingham Forest for a reduced fee of around £3 million.

It was a really quiet January window, and it needed to be, with FFP lingering behind our backs. David Datro Fofana was recalled from a disappointing loan spell at Union Berlin, and then promptly loaned out to Vincent Kompany’s Burnley for the remainder of the season. Chelsea has also offloaded Ian Maatsen to Borussia Dortmund, who made it to the Champions League final and might end up staying with the German club if they activate his release clause.

The 2023-24 season would be Thiago Silva’s final year at the club as his contract is set to expire at the end of the season, and has agreed to join his former club in Brazil, Fluminense.

A repeat of the 2022-23 season?

As naive as it sounds in hindsight, there were genuine reasons for optimism heading into the new campaign, with morale high and a system that brings out the best in many players. Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong, and now we can start playing the blame game.

There was now high expectations that’s needed to be met. While no one expected ’Poch’ to transform Chelsea into title contenders overnight, the anticipation was for him to unify the team with a distinct playing style. With Pochettino at the helm and no European football to juggle, Chelsea were expected to push for a top-four finish. However, reality proved starkly different. In fact, CFC accumulated more injuries than teams competing in Europe.

Pochettino has faced criticism from various quarters. Chelsea fans initially harbored doubts about his appointment, given his ties with bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur and his lackluster track record in winning trophies. Despite some fans granting him a chance to prove himself, his performance thus far has been dismal. Supporters are already clamoring for change, fed up with the team's poor performances and lack of progress on the pitch. Pochettino's in-game management has come under fire, with criticisms of ineffective substitutions and player indiscipline. One major point of contention among Chelsea fans is why does ‘Poch’ like to play players out of position?

Early in the season, it wasn’t uncommon to see Ben Chilwell, a traditional left-back, playing as an attacking winger/wingback hybrid, rather than utilizing a proper winger who could attack effectively. We’ve seen the same issue come into play with Levi Colwill, who had an exceptional previous season out on loan under Roberto De Zerbi at Brighton. He played in his comfortable position as the left-sided central defender but was employed as an overlapping left-back, which may have cost him a plane ticket Euro 2024 squad for the Three Lions.

Not to be overlooked is the treatment of Ian Maatsen. Despite his stature, Maatsen is best suited as a left-back or, at the very least, a wingback. However, 'Poch' not only restricted his playing time but also deployed him on the wing, resulting in minimal impact. Since joining BVB on loan, Maatsen has become a crucial component in Edin Terzic’s team, which has reached the Champions League final.

The club’s star signing, Enzo Fernandez, has also delivered some of his poorest performances under Pochettino this season. He's being utilized further forward in an attacking midfield role instead of his preferred position as a deep-lying playmaker. Many fans are rapidly running out of patience with Pochettino, and while his departure from the club might be warranted given the current situation, he is not the sole issue facing the club.

Chelsea has come under significant scrutiny in the past two years for their substantial spending spree. They've invested over a billion pounds in players, but the question remains: how many of these players are prepared to contribute to the first team immediately? A substantial portion of the expenditure has been directed towards the future rather than the present, indicating a strategic long-term investment. However, does this align with the identity of the club Chelsea has become? Well according to the words of the new owners, it is our new model.

A never ending injury-crisis

Many of the Chels’ faithful would also attribute the abysmal injury record at the club to Pochettino, who to be fair, has a poor track record in this regard at the clubs he has managed. It’s no secret that Pochettino's focus on high-intensity training methods, which translates to the pitch with his teams, where pressing is a prominent feature. However, this approach can potentially have a negative impact on players. This would be the clear answer if it weren’t for the fact this issue hasn’t been resolved since 2021.

Despite the apparent problems at the managerial and boardroom levels, it's undeniable that Chelsea have been plagued by injuries, not only this season but since their Champions League victory in 2021. The injury woes trace back to November 2021, during Chelsea's peak form under former coach Thomas Tuchel, when key players like Reece James, Ben Chilwell, and N’Golo Kante suffered injuries that effectively ended their seasons. Christian Pulisic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were also frequent additions to the injury list. You can argue that they’re all just injury prone players, but would you say it’s a coincidence that they’ve racked up significantly more minutes the moment they moved? Makes you think.

Fast forward to the present, Reece James, now the club captain, has been battling with problems since, and ending up getting surgery. Vice-captain Ben Chilwell has also struggled with injuries, causing him to be in and out of the squad.

Another significant absence felt by the Blues is Christopher Nkunku, who Pochettino built his preseason system around. A knee injury sustained in the final preseason friendly sidelined him for months, and even upon recovery, he faced intermittent appearances in the squad.

Players like Romeo Lavia, Carney Chukwuemeka, Wesley Fofana, and Marc Cucurella have all missed a considerable portion of the season due to various injury issues. Fofana, in particular, hasn’t played a single minute under Pochettino after suffering an ACL injury before the preseason tour, while Lavia has only made one 30-minute cameo appearance and has been ruled out for the rest of the season. Despite still having his flaws in the training method department, Pochettino was hard done by with injuries to his squad.

Defensive woes

Chelsea’s defensive performance and discipline have raised concerns. Their struggles to maintain clean sheets, particularly in the latter stages of matches, have transformed potential victories into draws or losses, affecting their league standing. The staggering number of yellow cards, setting a new Premier League record, underscores the necessity for improved on-field discipline.

Among teams placed 11th or higher, Chelsea possesses the second-worst defensive record in the Premier League this season, conceding 63 goals in 38 matches.

Pochettino has arguably been plagued by injuries, with key defenders Reece James and Ben Chilwell sidelined for significant portions of the season. Additionally, centre-back Wesley Fofana has been absent throughout the campaign.

Consequently, Chelsea has heavily relied on unproven defensive partnerships. Pochettino entrusted Axel Disasi, Benoit Badiashile, and 39-year-old Thiago Silva as the central defensive options.

Disasi and Badiashile, both signed in the summer of 2023, had limited Premier League experience prior to this season. While Silva's experience has been valuable, it does not offer a long-term solution to Chelsea's defensive challenges.

Silva's impending departure at the end of the season leaves Disasi and Badiashile as the probable central defensive pairing for the upcoming season. Additionally, Fofana's anticipated return in the preseason could bolster Chelsea's defensive options with genuine Premier League experience.

However, to address the void and complement the existing defenders, Chelsea may need to venture into the transfer market. Ultimately, the club requires a proven central defender who can serve as a capable defensive leader to succeed Silva.

An exposed midfield

Despite boasting a midfield pivot valued at over £200 million, the central areas have consistently appeared vulnerable to penetration due to their openness. While both Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez possess the potential to excel as a duo, the tactical setup often fails to maximize their abilities.

Before Pochettino experimented with the inverted full-back strategy in preseason, Caicedo frequently found himself isolated in midfield, amplifying the difficulty of his role. Additionally, Fernandez was often instructed to advance forward and make late runs into the box rather than focusing on playmaking duties. Without the support of a world cup winner to his side to aid in build-up play, Fernandez is frequently found alongside the attackers, leaving Caicedo to fend for himself in midfield.

It's no surprise then that 'Poch' reverted to a previously successful system, as seen against Aston Villa when trailing 2-0, a move that nearly resulted in Chelsea securing all three points if not for VAR intervention.

One can only wonder why it took him that long.

Goals galore

Despite their defensive shortcomings, Pochettino oversaw a significant improvement in Chelsea's attacking performance. In contrast to the mere 38 goals scored in the 2022-23 Premier League season under Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter, and Frank Lampard, Chelsea netted an impressive 77 goals in the 2023-24 campaign, marking their third-best attacking season in Premier League history, surpassed only by the title-winning seasons of 2009-10 and 2016-17.

Despite their propensity to concede in the second halves of matches, Chelsea proved to be formidable in attack after the break during the 2023-24 season. They scored 40 of their 77 goals after half-time, with 18 coming from the 75th minute onwards. Rather than capitulating, they capitalized on the increased openness and expansiveness of second halves. Notably, 11 of Chelsea's Premier League goals—accounting for 14% of their total—were scored from penalty kicks, with Cole Palmer coolly converting the majority of them. While some may attribute this to favorable refereeing decisions, there is a recognized correlation between strong attacking teams and winning penalties. For instance, Arsenal scored ten penalties in the 2023-24 season, while champions Manchester City scored nine.

Signing of the season - Cole ‘Cold’ Palmer

Cole Palmer has had a remarkable breakthrough season in the Premier League, regardless of Chelsea's final position. The former Manchester City prodigy ended the league campaign with the most goal contributions, surpassing Erling Haaland. Only two other players this century have commenced a Premier League season at the age of 22 or younger and registered 30 or more direct goal involvements: Cristiano Ronaldo (2007-08) and Erling Haaland (2022-23).

Palmer possesses the most refined left foot seen at Chelsea since Juan Mata, and his innate flair, coupled with his technical prowess, brings a pinpoint accuracy to all facets of his attacking play. Watching Palmer in action is akin to observing a footballer who operates at a higher speed and level of clarity than many of his teammates or opponents, using his intellect to influence not only his own movements but also the dynamics of the game around him.

With the ball at his feet, Palmer exudes calmness, never appearing rushed even when under pressure. Off the ball, he poses a constant threat, often anticipating and maneuvering into advantageous positions before defenders can react. He demonstrates versatility in scoring various types of goals, displaying composure and hinting at his potential to become a superstar, sweeping up nearly every award that comes his way. We’re all excited to see how the Premier League’s Young Player of the Year performs at the Euros with England.

A strong end to the season

Chelsea ended the Premier League season in sixth place, which many view as a disappointment for the club, especially after learning that Manchester United defeated Manchester City in the FA Cup final to take the final Europa League spot. CFC will now play in the Conference League with the possibility of being the only club in Europe to win all three European competitions (four if you want to include the Super Cup). However, considering the team's performance in their first game under Mauricio Pochettino, one could argue that such a finish was not entirely unexpected. Moreover, the Blues accumulated 19 more points than the previous season, which could be seen as progress.

Pochettino faced a significant challenge in turning things around at the club, especially with a new manager and a young, inexperienced squad plagued by injuries. It was anticipated that he would encounter numerous difficulties throughout the season, both with injuries and with the team not performing to their full potential.

Despite these obstacles, there was a noticeable improvement as the season progressed, particularly towards the end. Pochettino finally tweaked his tactics into the same one from preseason to unlock the team's potential, which resulted in a turnaround in performance. This change was evident after the comeback against Villa, where Chelsea salvaged a draw after being 2-0 down. Subsequently, the team won their remaining five matches, swiftly climbing from the tenth spot to eighth, seventh, and eventually sixth in a blink of an eye.

The team's ability to secure a European spot, especially after winning their last five games of the season, was surprising yet highly beneficial. Participation in European competitions will provide valuable exposure and experience for the young players, preparing them for midweek fixtures. It is crucial for this youthful team to participate in European competitions to continue their development and growth.

Looking ahead to the future

Mauricio Pochettino emphasized that decisions regarding incoming and outgoing transfers at Chelsea this summer will not rest with him, as he awaits clarity on his own future at Stamford Bridge before his departure. Despite securing European football for the Blues next season with a victory over Bournemouth in Sunday’s Premier League finale, the 52-year-old expressed uncertainty about whether the club's ownership intends to retain him.

Following a review of the team’s progress under Pochettino, it was mutually agreed that the Argentine would depart after one season in charge, despite a late-season resurgence. In the lead-up to the season finale, Pochettino appeared visibly discontented in press conferences, suggesting that internal disagreements may have played a role in his departure rather than performance-related issues. Nevertheless, 'Poch' has departed, and the search for a new manager is underway, with Kieran McKenna, Enzo Maresca, Roberto De Zerbi, Ruben Amorim, and Thomas Frank all rumored as potential candidates for the position.

Despite the quest for a new manager, Chelsea should prioritize simplicity and avoid making too many additions or departures. The team consists of young players adapting to a new environment, and they will naturally improve over time with the right guidance. Participating in European competitions will also provide valuable experience, which was a minimum requirement for the past season.