With Mauricio Pochettino leaving Chelsea, we look at the favourites to replace him. Is it a poisoned chalice, or could one of these candidates take the Blues back to the top?

As night follows day, Chelsea find themselves searching for a new manager after parting ways with Mauricio Pochettino on Tuesday.

The former Tottenham boss appeared to be taking a young, albeit expensively assembled, team in the right direction despite an often turbulent season at Stamford Bridge.

The 2023-24 campaign included 4-1 defeats at Newcastle United and Liverpool as well as a 5-0 thrashing at Arsenal, but Chelsea ultimately finished in a respectable sixth place in the Premier League, and only Manchester City and Arsenal won as many as points as the Blues from 5 February onwards.

Pochettino also turned around an appalling home record. Between mid-March and mid-November 2023, Chelsea won just one of 14 games at Stamford Bridge in the league (D7 L6), but have since won 10 of 12 (D1 L1) up to and including their 2-1 victory over Bournemouth on the final day.

After winning their last five league games of the season, the future looked bright for Chelsea and Pochettino. That was until Tuesday when the club confirmed the Argentine had left after both parties had “mutually agreed to part ways.”

The owners are reportedly looking for a young coach to carry on their ambitious project, so we’ve looked at some of the supposed front-runners to be the next in line to make a success of things in west London.

Roberto De Zerbi

Bookies’ favourite Roberto De Zerbi already has a headstart on his opposition purely by virtue of the fact he’s an ex-Brighton employee. 

From hiring former manager Graham Potter in September 2022 and taking a host of players like Marc Cucurella, Moisés Caicedo and Robert Sánchez, all the way to nicking their backroom staff – Potter brought five of his coaching team with him – Chelsea have raided the south coast side in recent years.

And there’s every chance it could happen again.

De Zerbi is newly out of work after his surprise resignation as Brighton boss at the end of the 2023-24 season. The 44-year-old Italian enjoyed immediate success after replacing Potter, guiding Brighton to a highest-ever sixth-place finish in his first season in charge, which saw the club qualify for European competition for the first time.

De Zerbi’s side started 2023-24 brilliantly, winning five of their first six games, and were third in the Premier League table in late September.

Performances fluctuated wildly after that, though, and inconsistent form saw them ultimately finish in the bottom half. Only Burnley (13), Nottingham Forest (12), Luton (11) and Sheffield United (7) won fewer Premier League points than Brighton (18) in 2024.

That said, De Zerbi’s credentials are plain to see. He is a bold, progressive manager, who has overachieved at clubs – Sassuolo and Brighton to name but two – with nowhere near the budget that Chelsea have.

Stylistically, his Brighton side played like some of the strongest teams in the Premier League last season. Brave, almost to a fault, De Zerbi instructed his side to play out from the back in almost every situation. His two goalkeepers – Bart Verbruggen and Jason Steele – had the lowest average goal-kick distance in the division, while only Manchester City (16.3 seconds) maintained possession for longer than Brighton on average (13.4).

Premier League 2023-24 Playing Styles

With a vast budget available to him, there’s no doubt De Zerbi could bring that style to Chelsea. He would be a more attractive and entertaining option than many of the other candidates on this list.

Chelsea fans would need to take the rough with the smooth, though. De Zerbi’s borderline obsession with playing out from the back can land his teams in hot water. Brighton conceded 60 shots from opposition high turnovers last season – the seventh-highest figure in the division – and a lot more than the likes of Arsenal (46), Liverpool (43) and Man City (40), the elite clubs Brighton are trying to emulate.

What’s more, since De Zerbi’s first game in charge of Brighton, only games featuring Tottenham, Newcastle, Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal have had more goals.

Goal carnage at Stamford Bridge? We’d be here for it.

Kieran McKenna

The youngest candidate on this list, 38-year-old McKenna has done a sensational job since stepping into his first ever managerial role with Ipswich Town.

When the former Manchester United coach took over at Portman Road in December 2021, they were 12th in League One. They earned promotion to the Championship the following season, ending the campaign with 101 goals scored in League One; the first time the Tractor Boys had recorded 100+ goals in a league season since 1960-61 under Alf Ramsey. They also became the ninth team in the history of the English Football League to win eight consecutive league matches without conceding, and the first since Man Utd in February 2009.

McKenna remarkably achieved promotion again in 2023-24 to take Ipswich back into the Premier League for the first time since 2001. Since his appointment at Ipswich in December 2021, no team in the EFL has won as many games as their 67.

McKenna likes his team to have the ball but did adapt for the step up from League One to the Championship. Ipswich averaged 59.8% possession in League One, reducing to 52.9% this season, though they maintained consistently impressive results. They were still able to create, too, with only three teams in England’s top four divisions attempting more than their 719 shots this season.

Ipswich have a number of young players who McKenna has shown faith in, including Chelsea loanee Omari Hutchinson, though as the age matrix below shows, this season he predominantly relied on his more experienced players, with Hutchinson and Harry Clarke the only players under the age of 24 who played at least 20% of minutes.

Ipswich age matrix 23-24

That Brighton are reportedly looking at McKenna to replace De Zerbi could also point to Chelsea being interested. Instead of merely taking from the Seagulls, why not just get in there first and cut out the middle club, as they might see it?

Rúben Amorim

Another option who is yet to celebrate his 40th birthday, Amorim’s name has been doing the rounds in recent weeks. He was linked with the vacant Liverpool job before Arne Slot was appointed to replace Jürgen Klopp, while he admitted to having talks with West Ham about replacing David Moyes.

Fresh off the back of celebrating another Primeira Liga title win with Sporting CP, it is understandable that Amorim is in the spotlight during a summer of significant managerial upheaval across Europe.

There were eyebrows raised when Sporting paid a significant fee to take the young coach from Braga in 2020, but in his first full season in Lisbon, he won the club their first league title in 19 years.

With a team that included current Premier League stars Pedro Porro and João Palhinha, Amorim’s Sporting lost just once in their 34 league games, finishing five points ahead of Porto.

Sporting CP zones of control
Chelsea zones of control

They saw off competition from Benfica to win the title again this season, winning an impressive 29 of 34 games (D3 L2).

Overall, Amorim has taken charge of 147 Primeira Liga games for Sporting, winning 111, drawing 22 and losing 14. A better record than anyone else, including Porto (W109 D24 L14) and Benfica (W104 D24 L19), in that time.

Sporting have averaged 60.3% possession in the Primeira Liga under Amorim, and they conceded just 20 and 23 goals in his first two full seasons in charge at Estádio José Alvalade. That rose to 32 last season as they finished fourth, and although they conceded 29 goals in this campaign, slightly more than Benfica (28) and Porto (27), they scored a whopping 96. That was in no small part thanks to the 29 goals of Viktor Gyökeres, whose game we looked at earlier this season.

Amorim has put faith in young players, though primarily in defence. Gonçalo Inácio (22), Ousmane Diomande (20) and Eduardo Quaresma (22) all featured regularly in his back three, though he didn’t start any midfielder or forward under the age of 22 this season in the league.

Thomas Tuchel

It’s hard to say definitively whether Tuchel’s last stint at Chelsea was a success.

He took over in January 2021 with the team 10th in the Premier League table (though only six points off the top four) and led them to Champions League glory and a top-four finish in an impressive first few months at Stamford Bridge. In that first half-season, only eventual champions Manchester City had a better Premier League record than Tuchel’s Chelsea.

But otherwise, he had rather less joy.

He failed to turn Chelsea into Premier League title contenders and lost three domestic cup finals in less than two years with the club, including the 2021 FA Cup final against Leicester. Although he ended with a respectable win rate of 60% in all competitions, there wasn’t a great deal to show for it.

Chelsea 0-1 Leicester FA Cup final 2021 stats

There were also reports that a poor working relationship with the club’s new ownership contributed to his sacking in September 2022. Whether he would want to go back is a question that would need answering.

Meanwhile, he was sometimes criticised for playing boring football during his time there. His Chelsea side were effective, conceding an average of just 0.9 goals per game over his 63 Premier League games in charge, but they didn’t create enough considering how much of the ball they saw. In that time, they were one of only three teams (alongside City and Liverpool) to average more than 55% possession – with 62.2% – but they needed 41 passes for every shot – the fourth-highest rate among ever-present sides (behind Leicester, Wolves and Crystal Palace).

Tuchel might be what Chelsea need in that he would shore up an incredibly leaky defence, but this squad has tonnes of attacking talent and there’s legitimate doubts as to whether he would be able to get the most of them.

Thomas Frank

We aren’t just including the Brentford manager because his name is a combination of two of Chelsea’s most recent managers’ first names. He might actually be a good, sensible appointment.

Frank has consistently had his team punching above their weight. While he has been at Brentford, the club have proved that a data-led approach with everyone pulling in the same direction can lead to positive results and overachievement. Given greater resources, he could help take Chelsea to the next level.

Over his three seasons in the Premier League, Brentford rank ninth for expected goals (xG) per 90 (1.44) and eighth for xG conceded per 90 (1.38). They are one of only nine teams  – along with the traditional big six, Newcastle and Brighton – to have a positive xG difference in this time. He has turned Brentford into a top-half Premier League team of top-half quality.

Set-pieces have been key to Brentford’s success. They ranked second for xG from set-pieces in the Premier League this season (15.7) and third behind Arsenal and Man City for xG conceded at set-pieces (8.6). His set-piece coach, Bernardo Cueva, is already heading to Chelsea this summer, so Frank would be set up to succeed on that front with a team who have enjoyed rather less success from dead balls.

Brentford xG at set-pieces 2023-24

One potential stumbling block, however, is whether Frank would ever be open to leaving.

“I am really happy where I am,” he said recently when asked about links to Manchester United. “[Brentford] is close to being the perfect club to be in. I can see myself being here for many more years. I am close to the owner, to the sports director, to everyone around the club. Brentford is a club where I really feel at home.”

There is a lack of security at Chelsea that might not appeal to him.

And Finally… José Mourinho?

OK, yes, this is implausible for plenty of reasons. But it would be box office, wouldn’t it? Another return for ‘The Special One’.

José Mourinho has been out of work for four months since leaving Roma earlier this year and is surely champing at the bit to get stuck in again.

Where better to go than back to the place he’s most revered? It worked in 2013 when he returned in a spell that brought Chelsea their fourth Premier League title – let’s just ignore how it ended.

Why couldn’t it work again? Plus, there’s a lot to be said for hiring a manager almost entirely on the basis that it’d be funny.

Jose Mourinho Chelsea

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