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Chelsea: Sluggish Christopher Nkunku lacking impact in another problem for Mauricio Pochettino

Chelsea: Sluggish Christopher Nkunku lacking impact in another problem for Mauricio Pochettino

Christopher Nkunku’s lack of impact from the bench was in stark contrast to that of Liverpool’s youthful substitutes in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday.

The Blues had looked most likely to win the match at the end of a positive spell in normal time against an exhausted and inexperienced Reds side.

Still, in extra time, it was Virgil van Dijk who rose highest to head in a winner in the 118th minute, an ultimately deserved outcome after substitutes in Jarell Quansah, Bobby Clark, Jayden Danns and James McConnell helped Liverpool regain control.

Mauricio Pochettino’s admission that “the team started to feel that maybe the penalties will be good for us” has been misconstrued. The Argentine was speaking about his sense from the touchline rather than any specific instruction issued to his players.

He will have felt that bringing on substitutes Nkunku, Mykhailo Mudryk and Noni Madueke, who cost a combined £175 million, was enough to force victory at Wembley. But all three made little impact.

Nkunku, 25, a £53million summer signing from RB Leipzig, played for over an hour after coming on for Raheem Sterling in the 67th minute.

The France international had three shots inside the box, fluffing one major chance and not looking sharp enough for the other two. He couldn’t get in the game and had just 18 touches of the ball without winning any of his five duels.

Since scoring a sharp finish at Anfield one month ago, Nkunku hasn’t looked near the best he showed in pre-season. He looks sluggish, unable to compete physically and lacking in match sharpness in matches against Wolves, Crystal Palace, Manchester City and now Liverpool.

Nkunku is yet to truly click into gear as a Chelsea player (REUTERS)
Nkunku is yet to truly click into gear as a Chelsea player (REUTERS)

Those inside Cobham remain excited about Nkunku’s talents but feel he needs time to overcome his injuries. He missed an initial four months of the season with a knee issue, then endured a further month out over the winter period to overcome a subsequent hip problem.

At least in Nkunku’s case, injuries are a factor. Mudryk, however, has made even less impact despite being fit for the majority of the season. Madueke, meanwhile, threatened with his dribbling, but his shooting was wayward, and his passing imprecise.

Trevoh Chalobah also came on in a defensive-looking change for Ben Chilwell. But Pochettino, who took off the wasteful but dangerous duo of Conor Gallagher and Nicolas Jackson, explained: “We need to change Gallagher after five minutes [in extra time] and then at the start of the second 15 minutes, it was Chilwell.”

Pochettino will insist he did all he could with the tools at his disposal despite overlooking options from the academy at Cobham, as Jurgen Klopp delivered a soulful victory with his own youngsters.

Questions remain about Pochettino’s use of substitutes in the final and the season as a whole.