Middlesbrough 1-0 Chelsea: 3 Blues lessons learned

Middlesbrough v Chelsea - Carabao Cup Semi Final First Leg
Middlesbrough v Chelsea - Carabao Cup Semi Final First Leg / Clive Brunskill/GettyImages

Chelsea endured an embarrassing night, succumbing to a 1-0 defeat against Middlesbrough in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final at Riverside Stadium. The hosts, who had secured only one victory at their home ground since November leading up to the fixture, now carry a newfound confidence as they head to Stamford Bridge for the return leg.

The match imparted three key lessons.

1. Mauricio Pochettino's questionable decisions persist, continuing to have a detrimental impact on the team.

Ahead of the tie, the pivotal emphasis should have been on sustaining what was working. Starting Armando Broja, the club's sole senior striker currently available, should have been an easy choice. Nevertheless, the Argentine manager made a perplexing decision by relegating him to the substitutes' bench alongside EFL Player of the Quarter-Final Mykhailo Mudryk. Raheem Sterling maintained his position in the lineup despite a lackluster performance. Levi Colwill continued to operate in the makeshift left-back role. Notably, the only available fit left-back, who had earned the title of Championship left-back last season, was absent from the squad against the Championship club. This absence was due to his preparations for a loan spell at Borussia Dortmund for the remaining half of the season.

Prominent managers like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp implement drastic changes when necessary, confident in the quality and standard of their teams, knowing they won't be adversely affected by player adjustments. However, under Pochettino, Chelsea lacks the essential elements of a top-tier team.

The manager's second substitution also raised eyebrows, as he withdrew Enzo Fernandez, the player who can find teammates while maintaining tempo. Despite a subpar performance until that point, Noni Madueke had showcased good form in recent matches, but it was not enough for Pochettino. Meanwhile, Raheem Sterling, whose performance was lacking, remained on the pitch. The former Manchester City player played like an amateur despite his supposed experience.

Chelsea's deficiency in tactics was glaringly evident against Middlesbrough. Despite not having a proper center forward, they persisted in producing crosses. However, when Broja entered the game, the emphasis on crossing suddenly diminished. Chelsea lacked intent and purpose in their attacks, contrasting sharply with the hosts, who swiftly penetrated the Chelsea box upon gaining possession. Middlesbrough adeptly defended while maintaining their defensive structure.

2. Cole Palmer endured a dreadful night.

There is no doubt about who has been Chelsea's player of the season so far. However, on Tuesday, Palmer had a dismal performance. He had at least four chances to find the back of the net. But unfortunately, the current u-21 European champion failed to capitalize on each opportunity. It's not unreasonable to suggest that the more he trains under Pochettino, the more the lessons taught by Guardiola at Man City may fade away from him.

3. The future doesn't look promising for Chelsea under Pochettino.

Even after six months as the manager, Pochettino still grapples with elevating the club. He persistently places players out of position without apparent justification, and the team lacks proper tactics or ideas heading into matches. Unless individual brilliance salvages the day, matches often conclude in disappointment, as seen in the recent Tuesday match.

Players like Moises Caicedo, Fernandez, and Colwill, among others, are not utilized according to their strengths. Their best efforts notwithstanding, it remains challenging for them to perform at their peak under Pochettino, who seems to lack everything needed for a top gaffer. Also, it is crucial to point out the players currently on the sidelines due to injuries, and there are indications that Pochettino's training methods may be a factor in these setbacks.