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  • Writer's pictureBy Kaz Mochlinski

Living in the shadow of Klopp - Pochettino's humble quest to match some of rival's lustre

It is easy to feel some sympathy for Mauricio Pochettino.

Much of his managerial career in English football has been intertwined with that of Jürgen Klopp. And, despite all the good work which Poch has done at Tottenham Hotspur and so far at Chelsea, undeniably the comparison is not a favourable one.

For both Klopp and Pochettino their biggest match as managers was the Champions League final in Madrid in 2019, won 2-0 by Liverpool against Spurs - Klopp’s solitary victory in the competition, and Pochettino’s only involvement as a finalist.

Before the end of that year, Pochettino was sacked by Tottenham, and he has famously still not won a trophy in England, while Klopp is only now going to finish his work with Liverpool at a time and in circumstances of his own choosing, something very rare in the modern game.

He has unequivocally earned that right with the prizes he has collected for Liverpool, most significantly following the Champions League triumph by winning the Premier League in 2020, plus the League Cup and FA Cup double in 2022 - like the UEFA Super Cup five years ago, secured by beating Chelsea.

Next month they will meet again, Chelsea and Liverpool, Pochettino and Klopp, in the League Cup final at Wembley. With the side presently in 9th place in the Premier League coming up against the team topping the table, the odds had already appeared to have been stacked against Poch.

But the task has definitely been made harder by Klopp’s announcement of his intention to leave Liverpool at the conclusion of this season. The emotion surrounding what could be the last trophy of his tenure on Merseyside is likely to far outweigh the support for Pochettino’s pursuit of his first success for Chelsea.

In his first season with Spurs, Poch similarly reached the League Cup final, nine years ago. Losing that Wembley showpiece - to Chelsea - has been a subsequent source of persistent regret. He is determined to avoid a repeat in 2024 of what happened in 2015.

Ironically, the Chelsea v Tottenham rivalry will be put on hold by Chelsea playing Liverpool at Wembley. Spurs had been due to visit Stamford Bridge for a Premier League game that weekend, to have been played on the Friday night as one of the live tv matches, but it will now have to be rescheduled.

Chelsea v Liverpool has built up a sufficiently vivid history in the last two decades - with a series of Champions League meetings, Steven Gerrard’s stumble at Anfield, and then the two Wembley finals won by the Merseysiders two years ago - to have prompted a police intervention about this year’s League Cup final timing.

The Metropolitan Police demanded a kick-off no later than 3pm, even before it was known that Klopp was setting an imminent date for his departure from Liverpool. The number of their fans who will want to be at Wembley now is impossible to estimate but easy to imagine.

As Klopp himself acknowledged, it is the most emotional club in the world. Since Chelsea’s next match is at Anfield, in the Premier League on Wednesday, Pochettino’s side will be hoping that a reasonable amount of the evident feelings will have been dissipated by Liverpool’s FA Cup game against Norwich City on Sunday.

By then there is a strong chance of Chelsea being London’s last remaining club in this season’s FA Cup, or at least the solitary Premier League representatives left from the capital, as the city’s only other sides still involved are Fulham and Watford, despite the fourth-round ties having barely begun being played.

A Friday night scoreless draw against Aston Villa was hardly impressive, but a replay at Villa Park at least leaves open the possibility of progressing further, which most of Chelsea’s London rivals no longer have. And there were extenuating circumstances for a mostly flat display from Poch’s players.

Many have never previously played regularly at this level, especially the younger ones, such as Cole Palmer, so some inconsistency is unsurprising. And Chelsea had Wednesday and Friday matches this week, meaning just three days recovery in between, in contrast to Villa’s 12 days since their previous game.

Chelsea’s growing weariness in the second half was ultimately not exploited by the visitors, and the 0-0 result extended Pochettino’s undefeated run at home to 10 matches in all competitions since being beaten by Brentford back in October.

The draw did end a seven-game winning sequence at Stamford Bridge (including the League Cup victory over Newcastle United on penalties), stretching from the thrilling 4-4 against Manchester City in mid-November. And it also stopped a streak of eight Chelsea home wins in the FA Cup in recent years.

It is necessary to go back six years for the last time when the Blues had to play a FA Cup replay, but Poch preferred to focus on the positives and the notable improvement which he perceived in his players from Villa’s visit in the Premier League in the autumn, when Chelsea had lost 1-0.

Plus Pochettino was delighted to continue involving home-grown academy products whenever possible, just like Klopp does with Liverpool. Against a near-full strength Aston Villa side, with just a couple of changes from their last league outing, Alfie Gilchrist once more looked impressively assured.

And there is another reason to relish every one of Gilchrist’s appearances for Chelsea’s first team at the moment. The centre-half, required to adapt to full-back (after a late adjustment during the warm-up), was the only player on the pitch on either side to wear old-fashioned black boots.

After the game, Poch admitted that hearing about Klopp had been a distraction in his matchday preparations for playing Aston Villa: “I was in shock. Today, I was working when I received the news. It is really sad. We already miss him.

“When we were sacked from Tottenham, the first message I received was from him. I haven’t sent him a message, but I will thank him on Wednesday. We will miss him, but we should accept. The job he has done with Liverpool is amazing. If his wishes are to rest and go away for a little bit, we need to accept.

“I think he deserves it, but it is sad news for people that love the spectacular in football. He is a great character, great man, great coach. English football is going to miss him, and Liverpool of course.

“When he arrived, his first game was against us at White Hart Lane. It was 0-0.

“The legacy is massive. His charisma, his capacity to manage, to create with an amazing club like Liverpool their own philosophy, and the history there. I need to congratulate him, his coaching staff. And he fully deserves the praise he is going to receive between now and the end of the season.”

With a scoreless draw, it was probably just as well to have another topic to take away the attention. And to begin the build-up to a fascianting forthcoming cup final.


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