Pochettino season review: What should Chelsea fans take away from his departure?

You know by now that Mauricio Pochettino has left Chelsea along with his staff. He agreed to leave the club with immediate effect on Tuesday, May 21, and the official search for a new manager has begun. Many fans expressed desire to see the Argentine go, but they did not expect it to happen this way.
Chelsea FC v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League
Chelsea FC v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League / Gaspafotos/MB Media/GettyImages

The reactions on social media have raged for several days now, and it won’t stop raging, as fans are somewhere between happy that he’s gone and angry that he left due to a falling out with the club hierarchy. Some other fans have taken the stance of “good riddance, he was rubbish anyway, he underperformed”, which is the wrong take away from this debacle. 

Yes, you can make the argument that he underperformed. In fact, let’s talk about his (under)performance.

Chelsea finished 12th in the 2022/23 season, making it their worst season in every conceivable way since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003. In 20 years, Chelsea won a plethora of trophies, finishing as low as 10th in 2015/16 in a season so strange that Leicester City won the league. The Blues won the league the season after though.

In May 2023 Pochettino was appointed as head coach, but he couldn’t resume until July 1 due to still being under contract with Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain (PSG).

Pochettino came into the club with a reputation of being very good with managing and developing young talent. However, his tenure started out unexpectedly, with the Blues sitting in 10th place after the first nine games of the league season. This was made worse by the fact that Chelsea had had the easiest run of all the 20 teams in the division up until that point. 

This run was characterized by many odd decisions by the former Paris Saint-Germain boss. First of all, he played Chelsea youngster Levi Colwill at left back throughout. He also played Ben Chilwell at left winger until the Blues’ vice captain got injured. 

That’s not all, because he also played Enzo Fernandez as a No. 10, even though the World Cup winner was shockingly ineffective there. These team selection issues were unexplainable and while some tried to justify it, it was very difficult to. 

It should be noted that he got some very good things out of Chelsea’s attack, with several players crossing the 10-league-goal mark, and Cole Palmer setting the league on fire. That said, the only way to go from 38 goals in 38 games in 2022/23, was up. 

His style of play was a cause for concern though, as Chelsea often pressed the opposition so intensely that the team was constantly exposed in transitions, meaning that when teams beat Chelsea’s press they enjoyed a lot of space to attack the Blues backline, putting the defenders and goalkeeper under unnecessary pressure in every game. 

The style of play also didn’t enable the Blues to create many shots, and while winning the ball back high up often led to many goal scoring opportunities, there were too few shots created from buildup. 

I explain in detail how poor our shot creation was in 2023/24 with regards to big chances here. I also point out two main issues in that article: Shot production and shot conversion. Chelsea was not creating as many shots as the possession commanded, but was also missing an overwhelming majority of the shots. 

Of course, one of those issues falls at the table of Pochettino, but the other has nothing to do with him. 

I mentioned two main issues in that article, but there were actually three main issues Chelsea faced this season: shot production, shot conversion, and shot concession. 

Chelsea conceded a ridiculous amount of goal scoring chances. The Blues defensive performance is eye-watering. Pochettino’s men ranked 6th from the bottom, coming in 14th place for shots allowed, 10th for shots on target allowed, and 11th for goals conceded.

For context, Frank Lampard led Chelsea to 54 goals conceded in the 2019/20 league season, and everyone thought it was an abysmal defensive showing from the side. Pochettino led Chelsea to an outrageous 63 goals conceded. 

If you thought Lampard’s 1.4 goals allowed per game was bad, check out Poch’s 1.7. This is how bad Chelsea was defensively under the 52-year-old. 

This makes it two of the three main issues that Poch is responsible for fixing, indicating that he didn’t have a stellar season, and while a 6th place finish looks good, nothing stopped the just-departed Chelsea boss from implementing the tactical changes earlier. 

The five game win-streak to end the season suggests that Poch stumbled on something that “might” work in the long term, rather than actually planning the tactical changes. 

With Poch responsible for two-thirds of the three main issues, the conversation about whether to actually sack him was definitely a fair one to have. However, he was not sacked. He left.

That is important because the details of his departure matter. Sacking Pochettino would have made the board look better. If the Chelsea ownership had sacked Poch, they could have spun it in a “he was responsible for several issues, none of which were fixed by the time the season ended” kind of way. 

However, Pochettino leaving clearly indicates a falling out with the club hierarchy, and it is especially exasperating because the fans know how meddlesome the Chelsea ownership is. Dating back to the circumstances around Thomas Tuchel’s departure back in August 2022. 

Pochettino is said to have expressed strong feelings about wanting more of a say in transfers and most importantly, more of a say in outgoings. It is public knowledge that he wants Conor Gallagher to stay, and likewise, public knowledge that the club is considering selling the Chelsea third captain. 

This insistence on trying to offload players that are key to the manager and expecting the manager to “shut up and coach”, while being force-fed players he doesn’t know anything about, will ultimately be what exposes Chelsea to mid table mediocrity for many years to come. 

Chelsea tried to hire some managers last summer, all of which rejected the club, before settling on Pochettino. This refusal of top, preferred managers to touch the west London club with a ten-foot pole should worry the fans. 

The ownership is the one part of a club you cannot change as a manager. Every other aspect of the club can be replaced with careful planning and resources, but the ownership cannot be. If the ownership interfered so much that no one wanted to work with them, Chelsea would find itself having to choose from subpar manager pools, and they may already be there.