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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Raheem Sterling makes Chelsea statement as Mauricio Pochettino’s plan starts to take shape

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So far this season, playing for Chelsea must have felt like going to your partner’s work’s Christmas party. You recognise everyone there, but only to say hello to. With the amount of fresh faces and uncertainty as to who even plays in what position, continuity has understandably been in short supply for the Blues.

Yet in recent performances, even as results have not gone their way, there have been green shoots of cohesion bursting through the topsoil.

Having secured back-to-back league wins for the first time since March after coming from behind to beat a naive Burnley 4-1 at Turf Moor, and with Mauricio Pochettino’s system starting to look that bit more settled, Chelsea are beginning to resemble something that it should not really have taken £1bn of outlay to achieve – a team.

Raheem Sterling was the star, but there were standout performances all over the pitch to give Pochettino several reasons to smile as the Blues climbed to the heady heights of ninth.

The writing appeared to be on the wall once again as Wilson Odobert became Burnley’s youngest-ever goalscorer in the first half with a fine finish into the bottom corner. For Vincent Kompany’s side, ending a run of fourth league defeats since promotion back to the top flight was on the horizon.

One step forward, two steps back has been endemic at Chelsea under Todd Boehly. Having failed to win in their last 19 matches when conceding the opening goal in the Premier League, a run dating back to October 2022, the travelling Blues faithful had little hope for resurrection in the Lancashire sunshine.

What they needed was some divine intervention, getting an almighty slice of good fortune as Ameen Al-Dakhil looped Sterling’s cross over James Trafford and into his own net just before the break.

From there on in, there was only going to be one winner.

On his return to the side, Sterling knew he had to perform, with big-money arrival Mykhailo Mudryk finally getting off the mark in last week’s win at Fulham, having grown and grown as a Premier League player in recent weeks.

With Cole Palmer the current preferred option for Pochettino on the right, Sterling and Mudryk are likely to have a high-profile battle royale on their hands for a starting spot.

Sterling certainly laid down an early marker with his second-half efforts. Firstly, he won the penalty, converted by Palmer, that completed the Chelsea turnaround, before arrowing a superb, game-clinching third of the season into the net.

Nicolas Jackson stepped off the bench to get in on the act, giving Chelsea their biggest league win since April last year.

Cole Palmer scored his first Chelsea goal from the penalty spot

(Getty Images)

Nicolas Jackson wrapped up victory for Chelsea

(Getty Images)

As a result of this third win in a row in all competitions, we now have a much better understanding of how Chelsea will set up this season.

The back four is remarkably well set, with Ben Chilwell’s injury in fact making Pochettino’s job that bit easier.

Levi Colwill is growing week on week at full-back, given his finesse on the ball, Thiago Silva remains football’s Benjamin Button, Axel Disasi has somehow played every minute in the league since arriving on our shores, while Marc Cucurella, after a difficult start at Turf Moor, is capable at right-back too.

This was Moises Caicedo’s best performance in Chelsea blue, while Conor Gallagher showed why he has been handed the captain’s armband on occasion this season with another authoritative performance, linking up well with Palmer – the young English pair continuing to build their bond.

Armando Broja looked sluggish but given his injury layoff that is understandable, with Jackson showing some composure – something that has eluded him at times this term – being the icing on the cake.

It was always going to take time for Pochettino to decide on anything like his strongest team, given the sheer number of bodies in the Chelsea dressing room, but he seems, at long last, to be getting there.

More performances like this and the team will start to effectively pick itself.

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