Mauricio Pochettino has challenged Chelsea’s owners to back him – but are they listening?

The first week of May is not a typical moment to herald the turning point in a team’s season, but Mauricio Pochettino saw something in Chelsea’s performance against Tottenham that convinced him his players had finally grasped the meaning of the message he has been delivering for much of this troubled campaign.

“I think it’s the first time in the season that I really feel so, so, so happy because it’s the moment that, after 10 months, the team really started to realise how we need to compete,” he told Sky Sports after Chelsea, missing 14 first-team players due to injury, had battled to a 2-0 win over their bitterest rivals.

It was a combative performance matched by Pochettino’s attitude after the final whistle, the Argentine offering what felt like a challenge to the club’s owners to back him to oversee their long-term project. “Enough is enough,” he said. “All managers need time to translate their ideas and philosophy, more when the team is like this. We need to have time, but it’s not my decision.”

Displays like Thursday night’s should help. Chelsea brought a bristling, boundless energy to this London derby from first minute to last, swarming to turn Tottenham over repeatedly close to the visitors’ penalty area and scrambling to snuff out dangerous attacks around their own box. The result was that, despite having only a 37.9 per cent share of the possession, this game rarely felt out of the home side’s control.

The defenders attacked; Trevoh Chalobah used Marc Cucurella’s subtle screen on Brennan Johnson to get a clear run to meet Conor Gallagher’s free-kick with a towering header that opened the scoring. The attackers also defended; after the match Pochettino singled out the “unbelievable” Noni Madueke for his effort helping Alfie Gilchrist deal with the dangerous Son Heung-min. “The whole team was connected,” he added.

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Noni Madueke impressed against Spurs (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Chelsea have rarely looked like this under Pochettino — a fact he attributes on an almost weekly basis to “the circumstances” or “the reality we are living”. This includes an endlessly debilitating injury crisis, a squad overloaded with youth and light on Premier League pedigree, and at times simple misfortune. “The process we’re talking is about time, and some luck to have this type of result that helps give belief to the players that this is the way,” he said.

But if this moment really is as significant for the bigger development of this Chelsea team as their head coach suggests, what next? Four matches remain before co-sporting directors Laurence Stewart and Paul Winstanley conduct their evaluation of the season and Pochettino’s performance, with active engagement from co-owners Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali.

A strong finish could yet see Chelsea finish sixth, and European qualification — most likely for the UEFA Conference League — is well within their reach. Yet despite the repeated insistence at Stamford Bridge that no definitive judgement of Pochettino will be made until the season is over, it is difficult to imagine anything in these last four games decisively moving the needle when so much of 2023-24 is in the books.

Even the best-case scenario would fall short of the most optimistic targets for this campaign. Few would argue with Pochettino when he points to Chelsea’s devastating injury record as a key reason why things have gone awry; more pertinent is whether concerns about the physical intensity of his training sessions, voiced by supporters he has dismissed as being “bored at home using social media”, are shared by more influential voices inside the club.

At this time of year the eyes and ears naturally search for signs of disconnect or discord. Pochettino’s admission last week that he has not spoken to Boehly or Eghbali for two months was jarring. On a more minor note, his reference after the Spurs win to “confusion” over set-piece data that “affects the people who make the decisions in the club” appeared to be more thinly-veiled disapproval of Chelsea’s move to create a specialist set-piece department.

Then there is the prominence of Gallagher, who leads Chelsea’s squad in minutes played this season — many of them wearing the captain’s armband — and was honoured by a giant banner in The Shed End ahead of kick-off against Tottenham, despite the club hierarchy giving every indication that they are prepared to sell him this summer.

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Conor Gallagher has been integral for Chelsea (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

“You can see,” Pochettino said, when asked after the Tottenham game about Gallagher’s importance to Chelsea. “My starting XI, the whole season he has always been there. I am not involved in the decision. It is a situation they need to fix between the club and the player.”

It is no small irony that the competitive fire that so enthused Pochettino was led by Gallagher and Chalobah, two players Chelsea would have been happy to sell for the right price at any point in the last 18 months, and may even be motivated to offload this summer in order to stay on the right side of the Premier League’s profit and sustainability regulations (PSR).

”They were fantastic, of course,” Pochettino said of the Cobham graduates. “Always we talk about the identity of the clubs, players that grow in the club, came through the academy system. They have the capacity in this type of game to give a little bit more because it’s emotional.”

It is also clear that Pochettino has begun to resent the speculation about his own future as the leader of this Chelsea rebuild. “It’s difficult to see every single week that I am under scrutiny and judgement, but it’s not my decision to be here or not to be here,” he said.

The decision belongs to the people who hired him less than a year ago. Stewart and Winstanley will be keenly aware that while they did not appoint Graham Potter, Pochettino is not the first Chelsea coach to struggle to deliver immediate results in this particularly challenging environment.

They should also know that dispensing with him so soon would have implications for their own credibility.

(Top photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

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