Mauricio Pochettino has strayed into dangerous territory – and not just because Chelsea have slipped into the bottom half of the table.
Pochettino admitted after Chelsea’s home defeat to Wolves that no one has been good enough, including himself. “We’re all responsible,” said Pochettino. “At the moment we’re not matching the history of the club.”
Statements like those resonate in the boardroom and leave owners and directors questioning whether they should stick with the manager. It is an open invitation for any owner to take decisive action. For now, Pochettino probably feels safe because Chelsea have the Carabao Cup final at the end of the month and also an FA Cup fourth-round replay at Aston Villa on Wednesday night.
And while Chelsea have a chance of getting into Europe next season – beating Liverpool at Wembley on February 25 would get them into the Europa Conference League – they will stick with him. But what is more concerning is that there is a distinct lack of progress since Pochettino took over last summer.
Chelsea look a team with no identity, they have underperforming players and no one has a clue what is the best starting XI. It was Pochettino himself who said at the start that Chelsea is a club that does not do transition.
They expect to be winners and he put himself under pressure to win trophies. That is why the Carabao Cup final feels so big for him. But judging by recent performances, you would not give them a prayer.
The end game for any manager usually starts when the fans turn. Bearing in mind they have become so used to success, the Chelsea fanbase have been relatively patient and understanding. Their boos after the Wolves defeat were understandable.
The fans can see the hierarchy has been something of a mess. It is a long way since the days of – dare I say it – Roman Abramovich. The Todd Boehly regime has seen £1billion spent – and still the squad looks horribly unbalanced.
The recruitment has been a mess. They have spent big and sold big. The club have been clear that they will meet Profit and Sustainability Rules. But it did feel they were getting desperate in the last days of the window. They were open to selling Conor Gallagher. But he did not want to go. They ended up loaning Armando Broja.
Now, bearing in mind selling homegrown talent helps balance the books, does that signal that they fear the worst and need to do something drastic? Chelsea’s big signings have not worked. Moises Caicedo looks as if he is drowning under the weight of expectation. Cole Palmer has been good. Raheem Sterling has had a decent season.
But Enzo Fernandez and Mykhailo Mudryk cost nearly £200m combined and they have not lived up to that billing. Each week they seem to pluck another defender out of the air and none of them have held down a place.
Pochettino does unquestionably get a good ride. He is incredibly popular with the press, he is charming and loves a joke and a smile. Considering everything going on, he has not been in the eye of the storm. The club’s ownership has taken all the stick.
But now it feels like judgement time for Pochettino. Results have not been good enough. Performances have not been good enough. He needs to deliver – and fast.