Mauricio Pochettino tells Chelsea players to toughen up: ‘You need balls to get the ball’

Mauricio Pochettino answers media questions during a press conference at Chelsea's training ground
Mauricio Pochettino has hinted at the possibility of bringing in some experienced players for next season - Darren Walsh/Getty Images

Mauricio Pochettino, the Chelsea manager, wants his team to add a more competitive edge to their talent and show that they “have the balls to win the ball”.

Sean Dyche brings his Everton side to Stamford Bridge on Monday night and will expect them to fight for every ball as they battle against relegation. Pochettino wants his men to do the same.

Chelsea have struggled against teams near the foot of the table, twice losing the lead in a 2-2 draw at Sheffield United last week to Pochettino’s disgust, the second equaliser coming from Oli McBurnie in the 93rd minute after the league’s bottom-placed club had won a series of challenges.

“We have enough talent to win games,” he said. “But the most difficult thing in Premier League is another phase, when you don’t have the ball. When you don’t have the ball, you need to have the balls. Understand? To have the balls to recover the ball.”

Pochettino was famously not lacking in cojones as a player with Newell’s Old Boys, Espanyol, Paris Saint-Germain and Argentina, but he said: “We are with all the coaching staff, working, but we cannot be on the pitch. I think it’s about training and trying to show the way that we need to compete and then they need to deliver.

“It’s a process to become very competitive, very tough. And I think the way that we drew the game against Sheffield, we need to all feel very disappointed. Because did you see the goal? We lose one challenge, we lose the second, the third and the fourth and the fifth. And then we concede in the same action. And that was the last minute of the game.

“It’s about having the capacity to go there and to say, ‘We are a winner, I’m going to win this challenge, I’m going to be strong, I’m going to defend, I’m going to not concede a goal’. That is not more than capacity, you know, mentality, and all being together.”

Previous Chelsea teams have had strong personalities such as John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and many others, but Pochettino struggled to name leaders in his youthful squad beyond injured captain Reece James and acting skipper Conor Gallagher.

“I don’t believe that JT [John Terry] when he was 18, 19 was already a leader, or the rest of the players that you were telling me,” he said. “We are in a project where 80, 90 per cent of the players are young and maybe they need to grow all together. That’s why we are here, to help them in all this process, to become leaders.

“But, we are talking about too many players that only arrived this season at Chelsea or in the Premier League. Cole Palmer can be a leader, but he’s focused on trying to perform and show why he’s here. At the moment, he’s doing well.”

Cole Palmer on the ball for Chelsea at Stamford Bridge
Pochettino believes Cole Palmer can be a leader for Chelsea in the future but is currently 'focused on trying to perform and show why he's here' - Marc Atkins/Getty Images

As Pochettino says, a common factor in the absence of that win-at-all-costs mentality and a perceived absence of leadership is the youth of the squad. He hinted that discussions at the end of the season will address that.

“We need to bring some experienced players. That is all about talking with the club and analysing and to design the strategy for the next season. We need to assess all the bodies. We need to assess why players were injured, the risk to suffer injuries in the future.

“We have all the information and now it’s about taking decisions. It’s about agreeing with the club and trying to design the best strategy to be very competitive next season and go for and to fight for big things.”

Raheem Sterling is a doubt for the game with a combination of illness and injury. “He sent a text to the doctor saying that he was vomiting,” Pochettino explained. “He’s not training, to be honest, after Sheffield because he suffered a little bit in his back. We need to assess and see.”