Pochettino: Wembley return would be major milestone for Chelsea

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Mauricio Pochettino believes returning to Wembley for the FA Cup semi-finals would represent another important milestone in Chelsea’s development, revealing some of his players did not sleep on the eve of last month’s EFL Cup final.

Chelsea suffered a chastening extra-time defeat to a young Liverpool team in the EFL Cup final in late February, with Virgil van Dijk heading in a 118th-minute winner.

Pochettino’s men were widely criticised for relinquishing control of that game in the additional period against an injury-hit Liverpool side, with former Manchester United defender-turned-pundit Gary Neville describing them as “blue billion pound bottlejobs”.

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Though Chelsea are languishing in 11th in the Premier League table, they still retain hope of lifting a major trophy in Pochettino’s first season at the helm.

They host Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Sunday, with a trip to Wembley for the last four on the line, and Pochettino believes the Blues have grown since their last visit.

“It was always going to be a strange year. Sometimes the expectations are high, sometimes low. It depends on the mood of the day,” Pochettino said at Friday’s pre-match press conference.

“For us, to have the possibility to play at Wembley again would be huge. Between you and me, some players didn’t sleep the night before the final.

“This is all about experience and living through these different situations together, to make ourselves better.

“It’s a chance to reach another semi-final, a chance to challenge for the final and to go to Europe through the FA Cup. It could be massive.

“We learn through experiences; positive ones, and even more with negative ones. With pain, you learn more. For sure, if we go to play at Wembley again, it will be different.”

If Chelsea are to return to Wembley, Cole Palmer will likely have a key role to play, with the 21-year-old having 24 goal involvements (13 goals, 11 assists) to his name this season.

Palmer has been called up by Gareth Southgate for England’s upcoming friendlies against Brazil and Belgium and now looks increasingly likely to make the Three Lions’ squad for Euro 2024.

Pochettino believes that international recognition is well deserved, saying: “I saw Gareth a few days ago and we talked about him. I’m not surprised, he’s showing great personality and character.

“The way he arrived and adapted to the coaching staff, to dealing with the pressure of playing for a big club like Chelsea, that makes him special.

“Then of course, his quality is there. I think the most important thing is how he deals with pressure. We have some amazing players but sometimes they struggle, they need time to deal with it.

“I think it’s amazing, the way he adapted to a new club. It’s like he’s been at this club for 20 years, the way he doesn’t feel the pressure and performs in the way we expect.”

Palmer’s Chelsea team-mate Raheem Sterling, however, was again left out by Southgate and has not represented his country since the 2022 World Cup.

Asked if he had talked to Sterling about his England exile, Pochettino said: “It’s difficult to talk about it, all we can do is support him to perform here.

“Of course, he needs to perform well to convince Gareth, but it’s no consolation, whatever I can tell him. In football, it’s like this.”

Harry Carr
Harry Carr
Harry is a freelance sports journalist with experience of working for the Racing Post, Stats Perform, Opta Analyst and more, covering major events across all sports but holding a particular love for the beautiful game.

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