Mauricio Pochettino told his Chelsea players they must “grow up” if they are to avoid a repeat of last season following their 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa which saw Malo Gusto receive a straight red card in the second half.
With the scores level, Gusto’s heavy challenge on Lucas Digne originally saw him handed a yellow card before referee Jarred Gillett overturned the decision following a lengthy VAR check.
That allowed Ollie Watkins to capitalise and secure Villa all three points with his first Premier League goal of the season, meaning the Blues have now failed to find the net for three league games running.
Pochettino has won just one of his opening six games of the Premier League campaign and they have managed just five goals in those opening six games, three of which came in their only victory of the Premier League campaign at home to newly promoted minnows Luton Town.
“Work, giving them trust, confidence,” Pochettino said when asked how he can go about fixing his side’s lack of goals.
“We have the squad we have, now we cannot change nothing. It’s about building the confidence and giving them all the support that they need because they need to perform on the pitch.
“The performance is good, I’m not going to say it’s excellent, but we are missing to be clinical in front of the goal.”
Pochettino’s side had the chances to go ahead before Gusto was sent off in the second half. The struggling Nicolas Jackson spurning the best of them when he was sent through on goal by a brilliant through ball from Mykhailo Mudryk, but the striker’s weak prod at goal was easily kept out by World Cup winner Emiliano Martinez.
Villa had their chances too, Chelsea goalkeeper Robert Sanchez making two fine stops to deny Digne’s dipping volley from distance followed by a fantastic save to keep out Nicolo Zaniolo’s powerful strike from close range.
Chelsea only have themselves to blame for not being in a better position by the time the red card came. Raheem Sterling, who is trying to impress England boss Gareth Southgate enough to earn a recall to the national team squad, wasted another great opportunity early in the second half when he was denied at close range by Martinez.
And Gusto’s sending off allowed Villa, who had put in an under-par performance by that point, to take the initiative. He is not the only player to be handed a suspension either, with Jackson set to miss a game after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season for blocking Villa goalkeeper Martinez from taking a free-kick.
“I think we need to grow up as a team, not only in an individual way,” Pochettino said.
“Players like Nico that are so young, he’s learning. I think they need time.
“In this type of game, we are competing and we want to win, and football is about to win. But players, also, when they are young, need to learn with experience and they made a mistake.
“That is why we feel disappointed, because I think we are paying for too many situations like this. We are in a situation we need to change as soon as possible.”Embed from Getty Images
Even with ten men, there were openings for Chelsea. It is not just a case of wayward shots for Pochettino’s side but poor decision making in the final third, or a bad final ball which ends an otherwise promising attack.
The Chelsea manager’s frustrations were compounded when Villa made their man advantage count, turning an attack from the home side into one of their own at rapid pace. Moussa Diaby fed Ollie Watkins through down the right, who saw his first effort blocked before brilliantly finding the inside of the far post to beat Sanchez.
Chelsea appeared spurred on by going behind, substitute Ben Chilwell getting in down the left moments after going behind but again could only find the gloves of Martinez to the moans and groans of the home crowd.
The Villa fans, as many others have done, took great joy from watching a side they have seen regularly win trophies for the past 20 years struggle, with chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” echoing around Stamford Bridge after their side had gone in front.
Pochettino will surely be afforded more time to turn it around, but he faces an enormous task to fix Chelsea’s long-standing goalscoring problems. Graham Potter and Frank Lampard have already tried and failed.