Mauricio Pochettino flew straight to Spain for a three-day break after Chelsea’s third successive Premier League victory, but it is no wonder the Argentine knows he will not be able to switch off — even if he would prefer to be left alone with his thoughts.
Chelsea have revived their hopes of qualifying for Europe over recent weeks, despite the Carabao Cup semi-final first-leg defeat by Middlesbrough, yet there is still plenty for Pochettino to ponder during his short time away.
Cole Palmer’s penalty was just about enough to secure a victory over Fulham, but Chelsea again looked in desperate need of a goalscorer and in each of their past three league victories, Pochettino’s team have clung on after panicking during the final stages.
He is waiting to hear news on Christopher Nkunku’s injury and Chelsea’s 10-day break between games offers the club the opportunity to assess their options in the transfer market, which means Pochettino will need to remain close to his telephone despite hoping it never rings.
“We need to give some rest to the players and the staff because it is a really busy period now and they need to breathe a little bit. This break is very useful,” Pochettino said.
“I need to go to see my family [in Spain] and it is going to be good to have a little bit of a change. I won’t really be able to switch off — not with the chairman. I will need to be available 24 hours in case anything happens to be contacted by the sporting director or the owners. I know that something can always appear in football.
“To be honest, I would prefer it if the phone did not ring. If it does not ring, it is much better for me.”
There is not an obvious solution to Chelsea’s need for a goalscorer in the January transfer window. There is no appetite, perhaps with profit and sustainability rules in mind, to spend £120 million to sign Victor Osimhen from Napoli this month and the growing belief is that Ivan Toney will see the season out at Brentford.
Taking a risk on a striker who has been prolific in Portugal or Holland is unlikely to yield instant results, which perhaps leaves Chelsea having to consider the possibility of trying to find a short-term loan option from Saudi Arabia in the form of Roberto Firmino or even Karim Benzema.
Pochettino stressed he had not communicated a desire to sign a striker and his preference for his phone not to ring may point towards a desire for Chelsea not to repeat past mistakes and allow themselves to be panicked into an unsuitable deal.
A phone call informing him of a bid for Conor Gallagher would certainly not be gratefully received. The midfielder struck the post against Fulham with a wonderful shot with the outside of his foot and was again industrious in midfield.
Gallagher is not the only player who faces an uncertain Chelsea future and a move for a new forward would most likely prompt Armando Broja’s departure, either permanently or on loan. That would not necessarily be a bad thing, as the Albania international has struggled to find his best form since returning from injury. He missed an early header from eight yards at the weekend and was eventually replaced by Noni Madueke.
Chelsea and Pochettino have a decision to make at left-back, another area of the pitch the club have considered strengthening during the transfer window.
Ben Chilwell returned as a substitute on Saturday but, just as he largely was before his injury, the England international was introduced on the left wing with Levi Colwill playing as a makeshift left-back.
Pochettino’s use of Colwill has caused some frustration inside and outside Stamford Bridge, although the 20-year-old produced an accomplished performance against Fulham as Chelsea kept only their second clean sheet in the league in 14 games.
With Marc Cucurella recovering from surgery and Ian Maatsen now on loan at Borussia Dortmund, would Pochettino prefer to go with Colwill and Chilwell for the foreseeable future or would he and the club like to sign a specialised left-back and allow Colwill to spend the rest of the season competing for a place in central defence? The answer will become clear.
Relaxing with a glass of his favourite Argentine Malbec, Pochettino will be satisfied, and somewhat relieved, that Chelsea still have plenty to play for when they return from their break. But he will also be aware that they must improve to finish the season with silverware or a European place.
“[After the break] then we are going to prepare,” Pochettino said. “We have seven days to prepare for the second leg against Middlesbrough on the Tuesday and then on the Friday in the FA Cup against Aston Villa and then Wednesday again in the Premier League. Three games in three different competitions, but I think they [the players] need three days off. They need to revive and then they can attack the second half of the season.”