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  • By Matthew Ferris at Cobham training ground

James is out running, but Poch has no idea when he will return to the Chelsea starting 11

By Matthew Ferris at Cobham

 

Mauricio Pochettino has insisted that it is crucial that Chelsea do not rush club Captain Reece James back to full fitness, as the right back continues to recover from hamstring surgery.

 

Although James has been running outside on the Cobham grass again, Pochettino could not give a timescale for his return.

 

“We don’t know, I cannot say the date of when it’s possible [for him] to be playing again.”

 

While the target for James will be to prove to Gareth Southgate that he can play a vital part in the European Championships this summer, Pochettino views the rehabilitation process from a different perspective.

 

“I think for me his target and ours is to be fit and feel happy and well and then we see the possibility to go to the Euros or not or to be ready for next season, or finish the season here, for me the most important [thing] is to build his confidence.”

 

He also said the club were in consistent dialogue with the medical staff and performance analysts at St George’s Park, which shows that Southgate still hopes to have the player in his plans for the Euros.

 

James’ injury troubles have quite fittingly epitomized the wider problem Chelsea have had his season and sadly, his absence has become something of a normality.

 

Malo Gusto’s form has been crucial in softening the blow of losing James, but The Blues have taken constantly taken hits in other areas of the team.

 

Pochettino once more bemoaned the effect injuries have had in the squad’s failure to reach its potential.

 

“When you start the season and you put in your head the idea of the potential of the squad, when you think about Nkunku, about different players, Reece, or Chilwell or Fofana or Lavia, when you think of everyone, you say okay you imagine the players in their best, in the best place with all the potential on the pitch.

 

“I said ‘we can play for Premier League or win [the] Premier League,' of course when you see the possibility you have with the squad, of course but then with the circumstances put into your reality because the circumstance were [there were] always 10/12 players every single week that were out, and that can affect the performance of the team.”

 

He was asked whether in his first nine months, he had been able to pick his best team, and he answered: “You know the answer.”

 

Pochettino’s body language was not of a man feeling the imminent threat of the sack; the midweek win against Leeds provided a much-needed lift to the somber mood around the club.

 

Connor Gallagher’s late goal saved Chelsea from a disastrous home defeat that would have ended their chance of winning any silverware this season.

 

The midfielder has still not signed a new deal with the club, but Pochettino continued to emphasize his back seat role in the contract negotiations.

 

“It’s between the club and Connor to make the deal. I am the coach and that needs to be my place.

 

“He loves to play for Chelsea.”

 

It’s clear Pochettino wants Gallagher to sign a new deal; he has been quick to praise him at any given opportunity and the team sheet doesn’t lie, which does raise the question as to what is causing the delay.

 

Managers of clubs in the top four of the Premier League seem to have more control over proceedings than Pochettino does at Chelsea, and when asked whether he would like more control within the club, he said: “No comment.

 

“Because [I have] nothing to win, what am I going to say, I am the head coach, my job is to coach the team and to pick the decision for tomorrow, the starting 11 and the squad, and try to improve our players and try to win games, that is my job.”

 

While he is wise not to start a war of words with the Chelsea owners, his refusal to state whether he is happy or not with the power he has suggests that in an ideal world, he would have more power over certain situations.

 

There is no doubt that losing Gallagher would be a monumental blow to Chelsea’s midfield, leaving a hole that would probably cost a lot more to fill than it would renewing the Englishman’s contract.  

 

However, Pochettino did reaffirm his “very good relationship with the owners and the sporting director” and said that his “office is always open” to help in any way with decisions need to be made.

 

In terms of his job, picking the team for tomorrow, he said Thiago Silva will be assessed before the match to see if he is able to return, and Marc Cucurella is also on the verge of a comeback.

 

There had been some surprise in midweek about the absence of Ben Chilwell and Cole Palmer, but Pochettino explained after the game that the former was not given the all-clear by the medical department to play 90 minutes, while the latter had suffered with illness.

 

Pochettino has asked for trust when it comes to making important decisions about the team selection.

 

“Always I said to the club, the owners, and the sporting director, you need to trust in us…it’s only to ask because you want to know, not to judge why we made some decisions.”

 

The trip to Brentford will be the third match in six days for the club, so it is highly likely there will be some changes to the starting eleven after what has been an emotionally and physically draining week for the players.

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