Wembley is preparing for a showdown between Chelsea’s turmoil and Liverpool’s composure.

Estimated read time 6 min read


The farewell has commenced. An opportunity for supporters to show their gratitude towards a man who is expected to depart from his position soon; a chance to honor a renowned coach with a final trophy and cherished memories. Indeed, it is a significant afternoon for Mauricio Pochettino, as the Carabao Cup final on Sunday is his best chance to revive Chelsea’s season and potentially save his struggling project.

It is unlikely that he will be successful based on historical patterns. In the past ten years, there has not been a significant upset in the final match. All winners since 2013 have also qualified for the Champions League, which is highly unlikely for Chelsea. In eight out of the last ten years, the League Cup was not the only trophy won by the champions that season. This competition used to provide opportunities for smaller teams to surprise and defeat the established hierarchy of English football, such as Oxford, Leicester, Birmingham, and Swansea. However, in recent years, it has only reinforced the existing order and rewarded teams that consistently win trophies.

A victory for Chelsea at Wembley would hold greater significance than just winning silverware or securing a spot in Europe. It would also reflect the team’s ability to triumph despite adversity or dysfunction, a defining aspect of their modern identity. Over the years, coaches have come and gone and chaos has reigned, yet Chelsea has continued to bring home trophies. Even their Champions League wins arose from mid-season turmoil. Despite Antonio Conte’s tumultuous reign in 2018, he still managed to lead the team to an FA Cup victory. Since Roman Abramovich’s ownership, Chelsea has not gone two consecutive seasons without a trophy. However, unless Pochettino can secure a win in one of the domestic cups, this is the fate that now awaits them.

The method of arriving at our current situation has many possible explanations. It seems fitting, at this juncture, to liken it to Liverpool’s approach, which has been to establish success through stability, sustainability, a cohesive plan, familiar personnel, and a realistic budget. Even the departure of Jürgen Klopp – potentially a significant and disruptive event – has proceeded calmly and deliberately. Klopp initially notified the club of his intentions in November and will officially leave in June, resulting in a departure period comparable to Graham Potter’s entire tenure at Chelsea.

In one corner, we have patience and a structured approach, with careful consideration and a systematic progression. In the other corner, we have chaos and disorder, with constant turmoil and the influence of Nicolas Jackson. How does this play out in real life, on the field? Let’s consider Chelsea and Liverpool’s two midfielders who have won the World Cup, and how their new teams have attempted to incorporate them.

Liverpool did not acquire Alexis Mac Allister to play as a defensive midfielder. He has found success with Brighton and Argentina in a more attacking position, either as a playmaker or one of the two attacking midfielders. However, due to Fabinho and Jordan Henderson’s departures in the summer and Chelsea signing Roméo Lavia and Moisés Caicedo, Mac Allister had to start the season in a deeper role. He admitted that this was not the original plan, but with no proper defensive midfielder on the team, he had to take on the role.

“It turned out well. The walls remained intact. In recent times, Mac Allister has taken on a more advanced position on the field, and he appears to be just as comfortable there. When asked about players who possess exceptional football skills, Klopp expressed uncertainty about their natural position. During the midweek game against Luton, Mac Allister provided two assists. Klopp stated that it is important to break away from rigid positional structures and recognize that Alexis is capable of playing various roles due to his tactical intelligence.”

In contrast, when Pochettino discusses Enzo Fernández and his evolving role throughout the season, he barely touches on tactical intelligence. Fernández was brought to the team for £106m in January after co-owner Todd Boehly observed him playing in the World Cup, and he is now under his third Chelsea manager. During his temporary time as manager last season, Frank Lampard was questioned about Fernández’s ideal position. “I haven’t actually asked him that question,” Lampard conceded.

This year, Pochettino has altered Fernández’s position by alternating between a deeper role, allowing him to have more involvement in the game, and a more offensive role, enabling him to contribute more to the team’s attacking efforts.

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According to Pochettino, the ability to move and run on the field has significantly improved for this player. He has also shown improvement in his overall movement on the pitch. As a box-to-box player, he possesses the technical skills to score goals.

In this scenario, Mac Allister is able to switch positions freely due to a predetermined plan and with the trust of Klopp to make decisions on the field. On the other hand, Enzo also switches positions freely, but the reasons for this are not fully explained and seem to be more focused on his physical abilities. While the end result on the field may be similar, only one of these approaches truly supports the development of the player and encourages them to think for themselves rather than just being a tool for the team.

None of which, on its own, tells us anything about how 90 minutes of football on Sunday will pan out. This is the foundational truth of Boehlyball: assemble enough expensive talent in one place, point it vaguely in the right direction and occasionally the pieces will align and make you look like a genius. And when it does, it will look largely indistinguishable from a cogent and meticulous decade-long plan. This is the anti-ideology that has essentially sustained Chelsea for more than two decades, and may yet carry them to victory here. After all, once you’re standing on the winners’ rostrum, nobody really cares whether you got there intentionally or by accident.

Source: theguardian.com

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