Mauricio Pochettino has overseen an underwhelming period in Chelsea’s recent history, and plenty have been calling for his head for much of his tenure. Here, we look at the arguments for and against him being given the boot.

Back in late September, it was reported that an under-fire Mauricio Pochettino retained the full support of the Chelsea owners because the underlying data proved the team weren’t playing as badly as results and the league table suggested.

Pochettino was then just six Premier League games into his Chelsea reign. He had overseen three defeats – away to West Ham and at home to Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa – and only one win – at home to Luton, who were very much readjusting to life back in the top flight. Chelsea were 14th in the table, but their performances – according to said underlying data – suggested they deserved to be fourth. That is, they created sufficient chances of good enough quality to deserve to be 11 places higher in the league.

Even were it not for those numbers to back Pochettino up, it would have felt premature for him to be sacked just half a dozen games into his time with the club.

But more than four months on, we are still having the same conversations. Calls for Pochettino’s head persist.

So, should Chelsea do what they do best and pull the trigger in the hope that someone else might be able to steady the ship? Or should they give him more time to turn things around?

Here, we make the case for and against giving Pochettino the chop using – you guessed it – data to back up our findings.

The Case For Sacking Pochettino

Twenty-one games on from those early-season concerns about Pochettino’s Chelsea team, they are still in the bottom half. Right now, 26 games into 2023-24, Chelsea are closer in points terms to the relegation zone (16 points) than they are the top four (19).

And the problems Chelsea have suffered recently appear to be pretty similar to those that reared their head in the autumn. They are creating plenty of good chances but are consistently being let down by below-par finishing. Only Everton (-11.8) and Brentford (-6.0) are underperforming compared to their expected goals to a greater extent in the Premier League this season than Chelsea (-5.8). This isn’t a problem that Pochettino appears to be capable of resolving.

chelsea xg map 2023-24

Some might say that problems with being unable to finish chances lie with the players rather than the manager, but it could also be argued it is Pochettino’s job to build his players’ confidence to the point that they believe in themselves when they are through on goal. Only Liverpool (52), Brentford (51) and Everton (51) have missed more big chances – chances the attacker would be expected to score – in Premier League games this season than Chelsea (50). Their tally is the same as that of Manchester City, despite attempting 149 fewer shots (345) than them (494).

Chelsea are getting into good goalscoring positions, just not often enough. The average xG value of each of Chelsea’s non-penalty shots this season is 0.127 xG, second only to Newcastle (0.130 xG) of all Premier League teams, suggesting they tend to create better quality chances than most… when they do create them.

highest xg per shot premier league 2023-24

Yet Chelsea rank 10th for total shots, behind the likes of Brighton (409), Manchester United (387) and relegation-threatened Everton (374). So, as well as missing lots of good chances when they do get them, they aren’t working shooting opportunities often enough.

So, while Pochettino has got his team playing in such a way that they can create high-quality chances, they aren’t doing so frequently enough. It follows that they have only scored 37 non-penalty goals in 26 games this season, with just nine teams having scored fewer.

That is despite them averaging the fourth-most passes (4.4) and seconds (12.1) per open-play sequence of all Premier League teams this season. They are too often too slow and too ponderous in possession. That falls at the Argentine’s feet.

Then there is the hardly unimportant fact that Chelsea spent a lot of money in the summer to build this squad. Each of the deals might not have been entirely Pochettino’s, but the Chelsea manager has insisted he would not countenance a situation where he wasn’t integral to the recruitment process, saying in December: “It’s obvious that the head coach, coach or manager is crazy to think he won’t be involved in any decisions for the future in my area. Of course, we will share with the owners, the sporting director and I cannot conceive the idea of not being involved.”

He therefore has to be held responsible for the imbalance in the squad as well as the poor performances of his players. He is running out of excuses and should be running out of time, too.

The Case Against Sacking Pochettino

There’s no doubting that results haven’t been good enough this season, but Chelsea’s grass-is-always-greener approach to managers isn’t what this team needs.

It’s unfair to expect this expensively and – more importantly – quickly assembled, young, inexperienced squad to mix it with the best teams in the Premier League straight away. Of course they need time.

And performances really haven’t been that bad.

We can use the same expected points model that said Chelsea should have been fourth when they were 14th back in September to try and quantify the truer quality of this team’s displays.

Our expected points model simulates the number of goals scored by each side in every match based on the xG value of all shots taken. It then uses the simulated number of goals to determine the match outcome (win/draw/loss). Each match is simulated 10,000 times. The expected points for each team in each match can then be calculated based on the proportion of simulations they win/draw/lose.

In other words, based on the quality of chances each team produces, we can see which games might have ended another way on another day – had Lady Luck been shining on Chelsea, for example.

At the time of writing, Chelsea are 11th, but their underlying numbers suggest they should (or maybe ‘could’ is a better word here) be sixth. It’s not an exact science by any means, but our expected points table does give a deeper understanding of how well teams have been playing than the actual table. There is good reason for Chelsea to have a more optimistic outlook on the season so far than their league position suggests.

Premier League expected points table 6 March

Pochettino has also had to contend with a frankly ridiculous number of injuries, most notably to the senior striker they signed in the summer to finish off the chances their many creative midfielders would create. Christopher Nkunku, last season’s joint-top scorer in the Bundesliga, has only been fit to play 318 Premier League minutes this season. He has not got going all campaign.

Pochettino could also have done with having first-choice full-backs Reece James (five Premier League starts this season) and Ben Chilwell (nine) available more often than they have been. Carney Chukwuemeka started the season brightly but suffered a serious knee injury in August and has hardly featured since. Wesley Fofana has been a big miss in central defence, and summer signing Roméo Lavia has barely been seen at all.

It’s impossible to say whether fewer injuries would have seen Chelsea pick up more points, but what is for certain is that Pochettino hasn’t been able to play consistently with a starting XI he would have envisioned fielding back when he made all those signings last summer.

It is actually an achievement in itself to have made it to within a few minutes and a penalty shootout of winning the EFL Cup while also playing well enough in Premier League games to rank sixth for expected goals (49.1) despite suffering such considerable injury problems and operating with a new squad. You can’t just click your fingers and demand good players play well together. Chelsea’s fire-and-hire managerial policy worked for a long time but it’s unrealistic to expect it to work now, with this squad still learning to play together.

mauricio pochettino
Pochettino oversaw an EFL Cup final defeat to Liverpool last month

Finally, there is the lack of viable alternatives right now. The likes of Xabi Alonso (unlikely anyway), Rúben Amorim and Kieran McKenna have all been linked, and they each have very bright futures but are all in title races they won’t want to jump ship from. Longer term, they might even reasonably feel they can enhance their reputations better somewhere other than at Chelsea.

It speaks volumes about the lack of other options available that José Mourinho, who was sacked by Roma in January with the team ninth in Serie A, is among the bookies’ favourites. Seven games on from Mourinho’s departure, Roma are up to fifth, four points off the top four. Turning back to their former manager would be a big step in the wrong direction.

Of all the options out there, giving Pochettino more time is the best one. The shoots of progress that we have seen this spring show he is worth persisting with.

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