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Mauricio Pochettino exclusive: Chelsea progress important but we want European football

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“Both.” A bullish Mauricio Pochettino was quick to answer when posed the question of whether European qualification or signs of progress in his team is more important to Chelsea as we reach the business end of the season.

It has not been the easiest of seasons for Chelsea. After a significant summer spend, progress at Stamford Bridge has been slower than expected.

Despite an inconsistent season, Chelsea have the chance to finish on a high. An FA Cup semi-final against Man City is fast approaching and the Blues have also propelled themselves into the race for Europe in recent weeks in the Premier League.

Unbeaten in seven league games, Chelsea currently sit ninth, five points behind six-placed Manchester United and with games in hand over many of the sides above them, including Erik ten Hag’s side.

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Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino admits he might need to adapt how he speaks post-game to help improve his players

In recent weeks, Tottenham head coach Ange Postecoglou has been firm in saying establishing his style of play and seeing improvement from his team is the priority over worrying about the chase for Champions League qualification.

The Chelsea project is also still in its infancy and while Pochettino, who has been in position at Chelsea for nine months, acknowledges the importance of his side’s journey and the improvements that need to be made, he’s targeting a strong end to the season and European football for next season.

‘European football will be good for development’

“Both are important,” Pochettino told Sky Sports when asked whether progress or securing European football for next season is more important ahead of his side’s Monday Night Football clash with Everton , live on Sky Sports (kick-off 8pm).


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“The Premier League is a competitive league, and we want to finish as high as possible. Of course, we also pay attention to progress, improvement and the journey, but it’s about both.

He added: “You cannot say one is more important than the other and that’s because when you go to a game and you’re fans are at the stadium, they want to win.

“Yes, we do have to pay attention to the process and the evolution of the team. They will help us to win games in the future and that is the principal objective of this club.

“But competing in Europe next season would be good for the club and good for the group’s development.”

It’s great for us to have some positive things to look at. We have obviously suffered from the first part of the season when we didn’t get the results we wanted and the recent good run of results is not properly reflected in the table because of that.

Mauricio Pochettino on Chelsea’s recent unbeaten run

‘We are close’

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United

There’s no getting away from Chelsea’s up-and-down season.

Inconsistency has plagued Pochettino’s side, who have suffered 10 defeats in the league so far, and that is highlighted by the results of the last couple of weeks or so. A 2-2 draw with Brentford was followed up with an impressive 3-2 win over Newcastle. The FA Cup win over Leicester was followed by a 2-2 draw with Burnley before the dramatic late victory over Man Utd came before a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United.

Pochettino and Chelsea have not been without their critics after the struggles this season, but the Chelsea boss is bullish about the future, insisting his side are improving.

He said: “We accept the noise because we know we are Chelsea and Chelsea has built a reputation as a winning club.

“But I think we are close and we need to stay positive.

“As coaching staff, we understand what it takes at a big club like Chelsea.

“We’ve experienced it in the past at big clubs and that’s why we are implementing our way of working here to reinforce that.

“You have to insist on the message and keep it the same. You have to stay positive despite the negativity around the results you are not getting. You have to try and shut out the negativity around the team and push forward.”

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League match between Sheffield United and Chelsea

Poch’s pride for Chelsea youngsters

Chelsea's Noni Madueke celebrates scoring their second goal of the game
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Chelsea’s Noni Madueke celebrates scoring their second goal of the game

Pochettino is keen to keep pointing out that the results haven’t been up to scratch for Chelsea this season. There are also a few mentions of Chelsea’s winning past. It’s clear there is an understanding of what is required of him at Chelsea.

He’s also realistic. In recent weeks he’s questioned his side’s maturity, which is not surprising with Chelsea having the second-youngest average starting age in the Premier League.

However, Pochettino, a coach who is known for favouring and nurturing young talent, is unwavering in his support of his young players as he looks to bring success to Stamford Bridge.

“We are proud [of the players],” he said. “They are giving so much.

“We are proud of that effort, the performances and the commitment.

“They are carrying a lot of pressure because of the money the club had paid for them. However, we believe that in the future, when some of that pressure comes off, they will continue to get better, perform better and to feel better.”

How do you take that pressure off in the future?

When asked if Chelsea’s summer plans could involve bringing in some experience, he said: “The most important thing is to go into deep assessment of the squad and the season.

“Then we need to agree on the way to unlock this situation and try to be better next season.”

‘We need the right approach against Everton’

Pochettino knows there is still plenty of work to do and a long way to go as his Chelsea project continues but in the short-term, they have the chance to end a difficult campaign on a high, starting against Everton on Monday, live on Sky Sports.

Results in the so-called bigger games haven’t been a problem for Chelsea with draws against Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, and victories against Newcastle and Man Utd in recent weeks.

It’s against the teams nearer the bottom of the table where Chelsea have come unstuck, but Pochettino insists his side are prepared for the challenge that Everton will bring as Sean Dyche’s side fight for their Premier League survival.

“These games are such a challenge,” he said. “It’s the same as when we faced Burnley and Sheffield United recently.

“We need to make sure the team has the right approach to face a team like this, who is fighting to stay in the Premier League.”

Watch Chelsea vs Everton on Monday Night Football, live on Sky Sports Premier League from 6.30pm; kick-off 8pm.

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