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Why the Carabao Cup could be crucial for Pochettino’s Chelsea

Chelsea have not gone two seasons without winning a trophy since 2000-2005.

What kind of pressure does that put on Mauricio Pochettino, who – despite being in two major finals with Tottenham – has yet to win a trophy in England?

Will a Carabao Cup final win act as the springboard to success for the Blues? Or will Pochettino be haunted by ghosts from his past…

Sky Sports analyses the merits behind Chelsea in the Pochettino mould and their chances of proving their mettle at Wembley on Sunday against Liverpool – the team hotly tipped for Carabao Cup glory.

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Speaking ahead of the Carabao Cup final against Chelsea, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp spoke about the importance of the trophy and the winning feeling being as special as any other big final

Silverware could be turning point in Poch rule

Chelsea have been here before. Pochettino has been here before. But this time they will be heading to Wembley as a united front, both in desperate need of something to prove it is all worth it.

Sunday is a big day for all Chelsea stakeholders. The Blues are due to contest their first final since the abrupt end of the Roman Abramovich era – a chance for Todd Boehly to realise some return on his market-altering £1bn-plus investment.

Credit - AP Photo/Getty
Image: Todd Boehly (right) and Behdad Eghbali (left) have committed more than £1bn on new players since their 2022 takeover

Far from a sure footing, Chelsea enter this game on shaky ground. Glimpses of possibility have been shown under Pochettino but nothing to suggest a complete closure of the confused and chaotic chapter that went before him.

Chelsea’s young, talented squad crave stability and that is something that, given time, the Argentinian is capable of installing. Pochettino improves players: take Cole Palmer and Conor Gallagher, two of Chelsea’s shining lights this season, as indications of his ability to nurture. Glimpses of promise.

Cole Palmer celebrates one of his two goals for Chelsea against Middlesbrough
Image: Cole Palmer (left) and Conor Gallagher are both enjoying exceptional seasons under Pochettino

At Spurs, Pochettino led his side to – and subsequently lost – two major finals, the most damaging and hurtful of which was the Champions League final in 2019 to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool.

Here we stand again, except the occasion has changed, the competition and venue has changed – only the opposition remains the same. Pochettino’s record against Liverpool is far from favourable – only winning three times in 18 meetings – but the drive to win a trophy in England has surely intensified.

The reward would be huge, while a trophy would signify progress. Something tangible to hang his cap on.

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The topsy-turvy nature of football has many questioning the 51-year-old and whether he is the right man to steer the Chelsea ship.

Some of those doubters would be silenced if the Blues could somehow upset Liverpool on Sunday. Ultimately, disregarding all of the off-field matters, that is what a manager is there to do. Win football matches.

Chelsea have made clear progress on the grass under Pochettino – almost every metric is positive when compared with the Graham Potter era. Their unexpected display of defiance at Manchester City last week was further proof – and Carabao Cup winners’ medals would be demonstrative of a team on an upward curve.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from the Premier League clash between Manchester City and Chelsea

Time to prove this is not a Chelsea side that buckles under pressure against teams that, on paper, present a stronger front.

Time for Pochettino to prove the credence behind ‘third-time lucky’. And time for the Chelsea boss to demonstrate that, as he delicately puts it, growth really is a process.

Chelsea’s best chance of a return to Europe?

Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino, left, and Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp react during the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge Stadium in London, Sunday, Aug. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Ian Walton)
Image: Pochettino’s first game in charge of Chelsea was a 1-1 draw with Liverpool

Pochettino left no room for manoeuvre in September when he said: “We are going to be involved in European competition next season. No doubt with the quality we have.”

Chelsea are 12 points behind fifth-placed Tottenham – the team that occupies the last European qualification spot in the Premier League – going into the weekend, meaning winning a cup represents their best chance of fulfilling Pochettino’s promise.

The winners of the Carabao Cup are guaranteed entry into the Europa Conference League – not the level of competition Chelsea have been used to in the last 20 years but far more than they achieved last season.

Part of the reason the Blues find themselves relying on the cups has been their maddening inconsistency in the Premier League.

Chelsea have scored five goals and refused to be beaten across two meetings with Man City, while they impressed when taking points off Liverpool and Arsenal.

Yet they were also on the receiving end of 4-1 thrashings at Anfield and against Newcastle, while they were thoroughly outplayed in defeat at Manchester United.

Just a week after taking a point from the home of the champions, can Pochettino’s team follow up with another big-time performance and provide tangible proof that progress is being made under his rule?

Should Poch take a leaf out of Mourinho’s playbook?

File photo dated 27-02-2005 of Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho holding the Carling Cup. Chelsea lifted their first silverware under Jose Mourinho at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, which hosted English cup finals between 2001 to 2006 while the new Wembley was being built. Liverpool opened the scoring inside the first minute of the game after John Arne Riise volleyed home a cross from Fernando Morientes. Issue date: Wednesday February 21, 2024.
Image: The League Cup was the first trophy Jose Mourinho won in England

Pochettino may want to follow one of his predecessor’s examples when it comes to the Carabao Cup.

After arriving at Chelsea in 2004, Jose Mourinho made the League Cup a priority. He recognised lifting a trophy so early in his reign would help to convince the players of his pedigree, as well as their own ability to perform on the biggest stage.

It worked. Months after beating Liverpool in the 2005 League Cup final, Chelsea won their first league title for 50 years.

The Portuguese repeated the trick at United, winning the League Cup again in 2017 – his first season at the club – before going on to lift the Europa League in the same campaign.

It is not just Mourinho who has recognised lifting the Carabao Cup can help to build a winning culture. It was also the first trophy Pep Guardiola won at Manchester City.

Pochettino is in the early stages of trying to instil a similar culture at Chelsea. That task is made clear by the fact that, despite the record-breaking sums spent in the transfer market, only five players in their squad have won domestic trophies in England.

What is more, none of those players earned those medals with the Blues. Wesley Fofana and Ben Chilwell won the FA Cup and Premier League, respectively, at Leicester, while Romeo Lavia, Palmer and Raheem Sterling’s silverware came at Manchester City.

“If you don’t win in a club like Chelsea, you will struggle,” Pochettino said last summer. His club have struggled a lot over the past 18 months – will they take their opportunity to win?

Watch Chelsea vs Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Main Event from 2pm; kick-off 3pm.

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