Forget José Mourinho - Chelsea's perfect Pochettino successor is staring them in the face

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Rumours abound that Chelsea are considering replacing Mauricio Pochettino - but going back to José Mourinho would be a mistake.

The pressure on Mauricio Pochettino is beginning to mount. A 4-2 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge forced the Argentine head coach to apologise to the fans, but patience must be wearing thin as consistent performances and results continue to elude a Chelsea side which has been assembled at immense expense but which has yet to be moulded into a coherent unit – and the speculation over Pochettino’s position is ramping up at pace.

Much of that speculation has focussed on the availability of José Mourinho. Perhaps the greatest Chelsea coach of the Premier League era, he has been let go by AS Roma and the idea of his returning to the club for a third time has proved too tempting for the rumour mill to ignore. Whether it tempts Todd Boehly remains to be seen, but the nascent storyline has already set tongues wagging away. But for all of his past achievements, at Chelsea and elsewhere, that doesn’t mean that appointing Mourinho would be such a wonderful plan.

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Nobody can question Mourinho’s record over time, nor the size of his personal trophy case, but results have declined over time, and his spells in management since his second stint at Stamford Bridge have followed a familiar pattern – rapid improvement, a period of relative success, and then a prompt and unedifying collapse, usually accompanied by bitter recriminations and personal issues between members of staff and playing squad.

Chelsea need the first part, but need the second half of the equation like a hole in the head. Their team of young strangers has given every impression of being fragile and needing a patient hand at the tiller who can slowly mould them together into a solid unit, but Mourinho tends to lose patience quickly. Just ask players like Dele Alli and Tanguy Ndombélé about his man-management skills from his time at Tottenham Hotspur.

One might argue that players have come to expect too much coddling from their coaches, but the fact is that very few players now respond well to the kind of aggressive belittlement that has become an unfortunate trademark of Mourinho's management. Very few would respond any better to be called a "f***ing lazy guy" by their manager than Dele did at Spurs.

Mourinho’s most ardent advocates would argue that his tendency to knock heads together may produce casualties but also generates positive results, but his style of play also seems unlikely to suit the way the Chelsea team has been assembled. They have been set up to play attacking football, with midfielders and full-backs who can get up quickly to support counter-attacks, but they lack the physicality up front to play the slightly more direct style that Mourinho favours and don’t have the defensive discipline to dance to the 61-year-old’s tune. Perhaps he would inculcate that discipline, but it’s just as likely that he rubs players up the wrong way without making much positive progress.

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It's also more than fair to point out that success under Mourinho is seldom a long-term assurance, even if he tends to improve teams as soon as he comes in. At Manchester United, Spurs and Roma, results when south severely after an initial upturn. There is little reason to believe that anything he could achieve at Chelsea would last for a great length of time, and taking on a manager who all but guarantees an implosion a couple of years down the road seems like an unreasonable risk to take.

Should Chelsea decide to part ways with Pochettino, then – and there have been few indications that the current owners are especially inclined towards patience, although he has his job for now – they need to look for a manager who has a track record of getting the best out of a young squad and one whose strategic set-up suits a squad which has a focus on fast breaks and dynamic wing play. Happily, one of the other names high up on the bookmakers’ slates seems to fit the bill – Míchel Sánchez.

The 48-year-old head coach of Girona has done an extraordinary job in La Liga this season, sustaining an incredibly unlikely title challenge with a side who seem to have little business being at the top of the Spanish top flight. They sit just two points behind Real Madrid and six ahead of third-placed Barcelona, teams who resources grossly overmatch Girona’s – but Míchel has made a mockery of the natural order of things in Iberia.

While he doesn’t have anything like the long, storied track record that Mourinho has, his career trajectory is on a clear upwards curve as the Portuguese’s start gradually wanes, and the broad brushstrokes of his tactical set-up seem to be a much better fit for Chelsea’s squad.

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Girona’s gameplan is based around quick interchanges and over- or under-laps down the flanks, making full use of the speed of their wide players. He likes his full-backs to get forward quickly in support of attacks and is an expert at ensuring players on the opposite flank to the direction of play make space with late runs to the back post to score goals. In other words, he wants tricksy, pacy players with strong ball-carrying skills, and doesn’t prioritise direct passes or physical attributes – which, given Chelsea’s squad, would seem to make him a nice fit.

His 4-2-3-1 set up at Girona could be transposed onto the current Chelsea squad with very little awkwardness, and the way he sets up his midfield – more like two number eights looking to support attacks than two number sixes looking to cover the defence, would likely work well with players like Enzo Fernández and Moisés Caicedo to call upon. Furthermore, he doesn’t tend to use his number nine as a target man for crosses, but more on someone who uses smart movement to create space at the far post and who can drop deep to support play when it comes through the middle. That would, on paper, be more up the alley of player like Nicolas Jackson and Christopher Nkunku than the more traditional centre-forward role that Mourinho typically asks his nines to play.

Of course, there are no guarantees that any given manager could get a somewhat dysfunctional Chelsea team ticking, nor is there any promise that Mourinho wouldn’t get the right results with his rather own, rather more abrasive methods. But given the choice, Mourinho seems like much more of a risk than his immense personal success would suggest, and Míchel may be less of a gamble than his much less starry CV would imply.

Or, perhaps, Chelsea should just hold their patience and stick with Pochettino, at least until the end of the season. His methods aren’t working so far, but then trying to mould a team who have spent so little time playing together and who still have many flaws is no easy task. Chopping and changing managers every half a season rarely works out well, after all. But sooner or later, something has to give.

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