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How long can Mauricio Pochettino last? Chelsea closer to Championship than Champions League

Maurico Pochettino holds his head in his hands
The pressure is beginning to take its toll on Mauricio Pochettino - Reuters/David Klein

Mauricio Pochettino cut the loneliest of figures amid the Stamford Bridge gloom. Arms folded, trench coat flapping in the wind, he could but watch and listen.

Listen as a delirious corner of gold-clad Wolves fans taunted him with suggestions of a forthcoming P45.

Listen as a home crowd unified in its displeasure. Displeasure at watching a billion-pound team stumble, stutter, and surrender possession cheaply.

A team with enough quality to be challenging for the Champions League, yet currently sitting closer to the Championship.

Is sacking him a distinct possibility? For a time, such suggestions would have seemed laughable. His appointment at Chelsea was always supposed to be a long-term project. A cruise liner cannot shift direction quickly, after all.

But certainly, there was enough fury among those home fans still present by the final whistle to pose the question.

The small pocket chanting Jose Mourinho’s name would certainly shed no tears if Pochettino departed.

Neither, it would seem, would Thiago Silva’s wife. Immediately after the game, she took to X to post: “It’s time to change. If you wait any longer it will be too late.” Damning.

Chelsea players look to the floor as Wolves celebrate
Chelsea are in the bottom half of the table - Getty Images/Richard Heathcote

Even with the scores level in the first half, home jeers had commenced. Moises Caicedo had time, space, but not one option on. A lack of urgency was bemoaned.

By the interval, with Chelsea deservedly behind, the boos were ringing out.

It must have felt like an unwelcome shift. West London has at least provided some comfort for Pochettino. Chelsea may have largely lacked the excitement factor, but they were at least unbeaten in 10 here. Until Sunday, that is.

By the time Matheus Cunha added Wolves’ third, Chelsea’s supporters were pining for Roman Abramovich. When Cunha rolled in a late penalty to complete his first Premier League hat-trick, they left en masse.

Wolves celebrate their victory at Stamford Bridge
Wolves celebrate their victory at Stamford Bridge - Getty Images/Jack Thomas

What is remarkable is that February has arrived and still there is little sign of Chelsea’s identity under Pochettino. How is it they want to set up, how is it they want to play? No one seems to know.

A billion pounds worth of players, but very little direction. Both here, and during plenty of performances this season, it has been like watching table football. A frenzy of handles being spun, the ball popping off in random directions, with just the general aim to score.

Given their talent at their disposal, that will at times bear fruit. Take for example their opener, and Cole Palmer’s 10th Premier League strike of the season.

Palmer is a rare beacon of light in otherwise dark surroundings, and the move for the goal was similarly atypical.

The Bridge was hardly rocking at that point, but, for a few minutes at least, some positive murmurs. They gone were soon after.

Cole Palmer scores for Chelsea
Cole Palmer has been a ray of light amongst the gloom - Getty Images/Richard Heathcote

Caicedo had played a perfectly-weighted pass to assist Palmer, but that positive forward contribution was cancelled out immediately by some midfield dallying.

Joao Gomes and Pedro Neto did the thieving, and soon Cunha levelled via a Silva deflection.

It was far from the first time Chelsea had been sloppy in possession, and it certainly was not the last.

Pochettino’s programme notes had suggested that there was only one possible way to follow a display as dismal as Chelsea’s at Liverpool in midweek.

The theory was sound enough, and the practice should have been relatively simple. But Chelsea did not learn from their mistakes, improve as a team, or show a response. They worsened. On all fronts.

Time and again, Wolves exploited Chelsea’s full-backs Ben Chilwell and Malo Gusto.

The former was given the run around by Neto, comfortably the game’s best player. What a joy the Portuguese is to watch. It was his pace down the right that led to both Wolves second and third goals.

Just before the break, Neto zipped down the flank and found Rayan Ait-Nouri. The latter’s strike hit the unfortunate Axel Disasi and went in. Then, not long after it, Neto raced away with Silva barely in the frame. Cunha’s subsequent finish was emphatic.

Gusto, meanwhile, endured a torrid afternoon. He was lucky not to receive a second yellow when he brought Cunha down in the area for Wolves penalty.

At that point both Gusto and Chilwell were replaced. Both were subject to the ire of their own supporters, and it was difficult to argue.

Fed up Chelsea fans wave white flags
Fed up Chelsea fans wave white flags - Offside/Jacques Feeney

Caicedo too was removed before the end after a challenging afternoon. In he and Enzo Fernandez, Pochettino has a pair of nine-figure signings. Caicedo perhaps deserves a little leeway, but Fernandez? This was his 38th Premier League game, a full season. His contribution? Two goals, two assists. It is baffling.

Silva’s late header was a mere consolation. The only way is up? Problem for Chelsea is that may not be the case.

There was only one side who looked organised, who fought, who showed their qualities. And it was Wolves who moved up to 10th with a well-deserved victory.

It feels unlikely Pochettino will be in any real danger. But the direction of travel is certainly worrying.

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