Nkunku remains sidelined as Pochettino looks to maintain Chelsea momentum
By Matthew Ferris at Cobham training ground
Christopher Nkunku’s return to action will not be against Newcastle this weekend, Mauricio Pochettino has confirmed.
There had been speculation that the French forward was going to make his long-awaited competitive debut after returning to training for the first time since recovering from a knee injury that has kept him sidelined since August.
Pochettino said: “In few training sessions, he was involved but he still is not fully recovered to be part of the tactical sessions.”
The Argentine was hesitant to give a specific date or game for Nkunku to be available for, stressing the importance of giving him time to adapt to a new league as well as gaining match fitness.
Pochettino will have to find the best tactical solution to include Nkunku, but with the current form of Chelsea’s attackers, this could prove to be a challenging task.
He said: “He can play in different positions…it was really bad luck to lose him at the beginning of the season.
“We are going to find the best way for him to fit but he’s going to find massive competition because all the teammates are ahead of him…it’s a big disadvantage for him.”
The eight goals scored in their last two league games has marked a change of fortune for Chelsea in front of goal, so there may have to be a change of system if Pochettino wants to include Cole Palmer, Raheem Sterling and Nkunku in the same attacking lineup.
Pochettino also bemoaned the timing of the international break just as his side were building some much-needed momentum.
However, he is confident that this momentum can be carried over to the intense Christmas period of fixtures.
He revealed that he has been in discussions with his players and is trying to find a way to solve Chelsea’s poor form against teams who play with a low defensive block.
“We were talking today all together in our meeting to try to find why we were very good versus Arsenal and Liverpool, but then we struggle to compete with teams with less quality than us and play in a different way.
“We are a young team that started to work four months ago and I want to be more mature…we need to be more patient - we cannot get frustrated so soon.”
He believes that sometimes his side’s difficulties are caused by expectation, and he has encouraged his players to try to understand situations in matches more clearly.
“This expectation creates some nerves when you play a team with less quality than you, then maybe you start to make some rash decision…you [sometimes] want to do the job of your teammate.”
Pochettino is happy with the physical and tactical condition of his players ahead of the trip to Newcastle, but it is mainly the issue of maturity that he believes is holding his team back.
The atmosphere at St. James’ Park will undoubtedly provide his players with a stern test of their developing maturity as a team.
About Newcastle, he said: “We are going to face a team that is really strong, a team that is built enough to compete in the Champions League.”
Pochettino reported that most of his players returning from international duty are in normal condition, but they need to fully assess Moises Caicedo who returned from Ecuador yesterday.
Reece James has also had two weeks of training, and Pochettino confirmed that he will start tomorrow with the intention of playing the full 90 minutes, which would be a big step as he continues his fight for full fitness.