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Billion-pound bottle jobs to brink of Europe – Pochettino’s Chelsea revolution has finally BEGUN

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© IMAGO

It’s not how you start, but how you finish.

That trite little phrase nonetheless contains a lot of truth and particularly when it comes to Chelsea this season.

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It would be no exaggeration to describe the Blues as an absolute laughing stock at one stage this term with even Gary Neville getting in on the act, dubbing them the “Billion-pound Bottle Jobs” after they lost the Carabao Cup final to Liverpool.

READ MORE: Chelsea find Gallagher upgrade but there’s one BIG problem

That was a catchy soundbite, no doubt well practised by the self-regarding Sky Sports commentator, and it got to the heart of how people really felt about this project.

The objectionable Roman Abramovich had been removed, the mineral wealth he plundered from the Russian people no use to him any longer, and still propped up by an odious tyrant in Vladimir Putin.

In his place came Todd Boehly, his BlueCo 22 group, and his American ways.

Todd set about spending around £1bn to get a team on the field as ordinary as the one which earned 31 points of the 69 available across the first 23 matches of the Premier League season.

They were shambolic and we loved it.

Pochettino fighting with one hand behind his back

Chelsea were useless, they spent a fortune and their American owners knew nothing. For anyone who wanted to hate on modern football, well, here was the ideal punching bag.

No excuse would cover it; that a lot of the players brought in were young and relatively untested, that most of them – in any case – spent a good deal of the season out injured.

That includes their landmark summer signing Christopher Nkunku and their most expensive defender Wesley Fofana.

Christopher Nkunku
© IMAGO – Christopher Nkunku

Also on the sidelines variously this term have been first-choice goalkeeper Robert Sanchez, club captain Reece James, Ben Chilwell, Levi Colwill, Romeo Lavia and record signing Enzo Fernandez.

Never mind that Mauricio Pochettino has been fighting with one hand tied behind his back ALL SEASON long.

We wanted BLOOD.

Ignore the fact Pochettino overcame a lot of those issues and qualified his team to one domestic cup final and to the semi-finals of the other.

The teams to beat them, of course, were Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool – no small project in itself – and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.

In the early days of the season, as Chelsea shambled from draws to defeats, to disappointment to disgrace, we were almost invited to contrast what was happening at Stamford Bridge with what was going on at Pochettino’s former club, Tottenham.

Postecoglou goes off like a rocket

In case you forgot it, their new manager Ange Postecoglou went off like a rocket with Spurs, winning eight of his first 10 Premier League matches and earning THREE consecutive Premier League manager of the month awards in the process.

The only other managers to achieve that feat? Title-winning Guardiola, Klopp and Antonio Conte.

That run was brought to a brutal halt by… you guessed it, Chelsea.

By the time Chelsea were defeated 2-4 at home in February by Wolves, Spurs were STILL 13 point clear of their London rivals.

That was the moment – as revealed by Pochettino – when Chelsea hit their lowest ebb.

“I can be honest? I think after Wolves. Remember what happened after, also?

“No, I didn’t think we are going to be sacked, but it was a tough moment. That defeat at home was really tough, really tough.

“At this moment, as a coach and a staff, you feel loneliness. When you feel like everyone is seeing you as if you’re guilty of something and you don’t know what’s going on.

Ange Postecoglou Mauricio Pochettino
© IMAGO – Ange Postecoglou Mauricio Pochettino

“In this moment, we feel the loneliness. We were alone there after the game. Waiting. We spent two hours.

“It was a long time after the game we were there, watching at each other, the five coaching staff, in a very small room.

“Yes, but not thinking that, we were more sad. It was an unfair situation we were in. It was a situation we didn’t deserve, but the result put us in a very difficult situation.”

As hard as it might be for some observers to admit, Chelsea have recovered their form, their composure and are deserving of the utmost respect.

Chelsea turn it around

Since that dark day they are THIRD in the Premier League form table, behind only title-chasing Arsenal and Man City. There have been eight wins, five draws and only one defeat. And guess which match got the most attention? Correct, that aberration at the Emirates against Arsenal.

They have taken 29 points from the 42 available, meaning they are now only three behind Spurs heading into the final game of the season and on the brink of a comeback to Europe.

Cole Palmer has scored 22 goals, and has been nominated as the league’s young player of the year. Nicolas Jackson is not a laughing stock after all, scoring 14 Premier League goals in his debut season, a figure it took club legend Didier Drogba three seasons to get past.

Nicolas Jackson
© IMAGO – Nicolas Jackson

But which incident involving those two comes to mind when you think of them? Yep, the penalty spat against Everton.

Moises Caicedo, meanwhile, derided as a waste of money, has looked every inch the coming superstar in the final stretch of the season.

Chelsea could win five matches in a row to end the campaign if they manage to beat Bournemouth on Sunday, with an outside chance of overhauling Postecoglou, the patron saint of good football, and the Spurs team who have already earned their place at media darlings.

Spurs implode

The harsh reality is the north Londoners have lost five of the last six matches as crunch time in the season drew in, even if Ange has got the London manager of the year award to console himself.

The Australian has now admitted that his entire club is built on shaky foundations, with a deep-rooted loser mentality manifesting itself following midweek defeat to Man City.

Ange has got a lot of work ahead of him but he’s always said the right things to ensure his own continuity. I’m not the problem, he seems to say, it’s this club.

Pochettino has been working in difficult circumstances, with a squad of players who – when not injured – were barely on nodding terms with one another considering the haphazard nature of their arrivals.

Sack talk has quelled in recent weeks; at one stage it looked all but inevitable that he’d leave. But he clung on in there, gritted his teeth and determinedly got on with the job at hand.

For that he – and Chelsea – deserve a lot more credit that they’re getting.

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