Mauricio Pochettino said he is desperate to win the Carabao Cup in his first season at Chelsea after watching his team sweep aside Middlesbrough 6-1 to reach next month’s final at Wembley.

Stamford Bridge has suffered from a quiet atmosphere in recent months, often exacerbated by Chelsea failing to break teams down early, but a repeat here never looked like being a risk as they booked a meeting with either Liverpool or Fulham on February 25.

“I’m desperate to win a trophy here,” said Pochettino. “We won in three trophies in one and a half years at Paris (St Germain) and we want to win here.

“I’m desperate to win. That is the headline.

“It’s really important for us, we’re going to have Fulham or Liverpool, two amazing teams, it will be difficult. But now is the moment to believe we can win.”

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg at the Riverside Stadium, the hosts tore into their Championship opponents and banished memories of a chastening loss on Teesside.

Boro’s captain Jonny Howson inadvertently got the ball rolling by diverting past his own goalkeeper after 15 minutes, though Armando Broja was poised to tap home had the defender not intervened.

From there on, Chelsea steamrollered Michael Carrick’s side. Enzo Fernandez scored after being set up by good link-up play from Axel Disasi and the excellent Raheem Sterling, then Sterling feeding the surging Disasi to sweep home the third.

Boro caused problems for themselves trying to play out from the back, the match-winner from the first leg Hayden Hackney losing possession and gifting Cole Palmer Chelsea’s fourth before half-time.

Palmer, the top scorer for Pochettino’s side since his move from Manchester City, made it five late on before substitute Noni Madueke curled home via a deflection.

Morgan Rogers’ goal was greeted with a roar from travelling fans who had long since their Wembley dream slip away.

Pochettino added: “Now we need to prepare for Friday against Aston Villa (in the FA Cup), but this is an important step for us. The confidence and the belief in ourselves is so important.

“That is going to help because of the motivation. Players who are so close to coming back (from injury) – tomorrow, maybe a few injured players will want to come for training, seeing that the final is close.”

Boro manager Carrick reflected on a tie that ultimately proved too great a hurdle for his side despite heroics on Teesside two weeks ago.

“(The players) will learn from that after they have gotten over the disappointment,” he said.

“We had a big night at the Riverside where we managed to beat a really good Chelsea team. We just couldn’t get it done here unfortunately.”

Mauricio Pochettino said he is desperate to win the Carabao Cup in his first season at Chelsea after watching his team sweep aside Middlesbrough 6-1 to reach next month’s final at Wembley.

Stamford Bridge has suffered from a quiet atmosphere in recent months, often exacerbated by Chelsea failing to break teams down early, but a repeat here never looked like being a risk as they booked a meeting with either Liverpool or Fulham on February 25.

“I’m desperate to win a trophy here,” said Pochettino. “We won in three trophies in one and a half years at Paris (St Germain) and we want to win here.

“I’m desperate to win. That is the headline.

“It’s really important for us, we’re going to have Fulham or Liverpool, two amazing teams, it will be difficult. But now is the moment to believe we can win.”

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg at the Riverside Stadium, the hosts tore into their Championship opponents and banished memories of a chastening loss on Teesside.

Boro’s captain Jonny Howson inadvertently got the ball rolling by diverting past his own goalkeeper after 15 minutes, though Armando Broja was poised to tap home had the defender not intervened.

From there on, Chelsea steamrollered Michael Carrick’s side. Enzo Fernandez scored after being set up by good link-up play from Axel Disasi and the excellent Raheem Sterling, then Sterling feeding the surging Disasi to sweep home the third.

Boro caused problems for themselves trying to play out from the back, the match-winner from the first leg Hayden Hackney losing possession and gifting Cole Palmer Chelsea’s fourth before half-time.

Palmer, the top scorer for Pochettino’s side since his move from Manchester City, made it five late on before substitute Noni Madueke curled home via a deflection.

Morgan Rogers’ goal was greeted with a roar from travelling fans who had long since their Wembley dream slip away.

Pochettino added: “Now we need to prepare for Friday against Aston Villa (in the FA Cup), but this is an important step for us. The confidence and the belief in ourselves is so important.

“That is going to help because of the motivation. Players who are so close to coming back (from injury) – tomorrow, maybe a few injured players will want to come for training, seeing that the final is close.”

Boro manager Carrick reflected on a tie that ultimately proved too great a hurdle for his side despite heroics on Teesside two weeks ago.

“(The players) will learn from that after they have gotten over the disappointment,” he said.

“We had a big night at the Riverside where we managed to beat a really good Chelsea team. We just couldn’t get it done here unfortunately.”

Chelsea put defeat in their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Middlesbrough behind them to book a first Wembley appearance since 2022 with a ruthless 6-1 win at Stamford Bridge.

Four first-half goals for Mauricio Pochettino’s side effectively ended the tie as a contest as a Jonny Howson own goal and strikes from Enzo Fernandez, Axel Disasi and Cole Palmer showed a clinical side to Chelsea rarely seen this season.

Noni Madueke and a second from Palmer wrapped up an emphatic comeback late on before Morgan Rogers gave travelling Boro fans a reason to cheer two minutes from time.

By then, the hosts had long since ensured their place in the final, a 6-2 aggregate win ensuring they will face either Liverpool or west London rivals Fulham on February 25.

Chelsea dominated possession early but took until 11 minutes to fashion their first chance, Ben Chilwell appearing unmarked inside the box and heading fractionally wide from Thiago Silva’s drilled ball over the top.

And it was the returning Chilwell whose vision and delivery fashioned his side’s opener. The ball through the middle for Raheem Sterling cut Boro’s defence in two and Sterling, foregoing the chance to shoot, looked up and fed Armando Broja – but before he could knock it past Tom Glover, Boro captain Howson inadvertently diverted it beyond his own goalkeeper.

Rogers fired towards Djordje Petrovic’s bottom corner from a clever corner routine as the visitors sought an instant response, the keeper saving at the foot of the post.

But the game was looking increasingly like Chelsea’s to lose, and just before the half-hour mark they led for the first time in the tie.

Sterling manoeuvred out of a cul-de-sac via a delightful back-heel to feed Disasi, who sprinted up on the overlap. Charging into the box, he cut the ball back for Broja whose scuffed shot diverted into the path of Fernandez for the simplest finish guided into the corner.

Sterling and Disasi combined again minutes later to make it 3-0, the England forward sliding in his team-mate to sweep home first time as the visiting supporters behind the goal saw dreams of reaching Wembley evaporate.

Boro bravely sought to play their way out from the back despite the torrent of Chelsea goals that threatened to wash them away but their hero from the first leg, Hayden Hackney, had a hand in gifting Chelsea their fourth, leaving Dan Barlaser exposed with a catastrophic pass that let in Palmer to finish inside the post with typical cool.

The hosts were looking to reach a first major final since Todd Boehly’s Clearlake Capital consortium completed its buyout of the club in May 2022 and with the job all but done by the break, a sense of ease rarely observed this season passed around Stamford Bridge.

Carrick’s side still looked to get on the ball and play in the second half, an approach that did them credit if at times it seemed like inviting a fifth Chelsea goal.

It arrived with 15 minutes to play. Substitute Conor Gallagher ran the ball to the byline and cut back for Palmer to open up his body and score beyond the exposed Glover.

Madueke, sent on at half-time, danced through and made it six via a deflection off Ray van den Berg minutes later.

Rogers’ goal at the death brought a roar of approval from the visiting fans. In truth, their side had never looked like earning the win they craved on their long journey south.

Mauricio Pochettino believes Chelsea’s struggles last season are responsible for the apathy observed at Stamford Bridge during home games under his tenure.

The team won just three Premier League games at home in the first 11 months of 2023 under managers Graham Potter, Bruno Saltor, Frank Lampard and Pochettino.

Between January and the beginning of December they scored 18 goals in 19 games, though four came in a single, frenetic draw with Manchester City in the final match of that run.

Since then their form in west London has improved markedly. They are unbeaten since losing to Brentford on October 28 and have won four consecutive games, their best run at home in the league since winning six in a row during Lampard’s first spell, either side of the 2020 Covid shutdown.

Despite this, the atmosphere around the ground has been noticeably subdued, with recent victories against Fulham, Preston and Sheffield United, in which the team lacked creativity for long periods, particularly quiet.

Chelsea host Middlesbrough on Tuesday needing to win by two goals to overturn a 1-0 first-leg defeat at the Riverside two weeks ago and progress to the Carabao Cup final.

“We’re paying now for the effect of the last 18 months,” said Pochettino. “We (he and his coaching staff) are here for six months, sometimes for us it’s difficult for us to compare. We’re getting better results now, but the disappointment from the fans is coming from last season.

“Now people can give their opinion, it’s a bit flat. There’s been disappointment for a long period. But how we feel at Stamford Bridge is very good.

“OK, in a few periods in some games, maybe against Nottingham Forest (a 1-0 loss in September) or Brentford the energy was down because the team didn’t engage the fans. That’s our mistake.

“But against Arsenal (a 2-2 draw), City, Brighton (a 3-2 win), Liverpool (1-1), the fans were really good.

“People believed that Fulham would be easy, but Fulham wasn’t easy for Liverpool. They beat Arsenal. We played Preston, it’s difficult, (their) motivation, the beauty of the cup. The inferior team can match you in different aspects and you can suffer.

“When you feel so disappointed because of last season, you lose too many games at home, the energy is a little bit down.”

Pochettino will be without Christopher Nkunku who continues to be plagued by a hip injury, though the manager reiterated the problem is not serious.

Defender Malo Gusto, who has proved an able deputy for sidelined captain Reece James, is the latest addition to an absentee list currently standing at nine names.

Nevertheless, Pochettino is happy with recent progress.

“In December we were one of the best teams in England,” he said. “Now (but for) the defeat against Middlesbrough, the results are not too bad, they are good. The problem is the feelings (from last season), because we lose the first leg against Middlesbrough, there was a bit of a strange feeling.

“The results are good and we need to keep doing well and improving.”

Jamaican international Dujuan 'Whisper' Richards is gradually working his way up the ranks at English Premier League (EPL) outfit Chelsea, as he was recently promoted to first-team training at Stamford Bridge.

According to a Chelsea Chronicle report, Richards, who was among a number of exciting young talent recruited by Chelsea from all over the world, has progressed rapidly since his arrival at the West London club late last year, and expectations for his future with Mauricio Pochettino's side are high, especially as he continues to improve in his craft.

Richards, a product of Craig Butler's Phoenix Academy renowned for producing Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey, burst into prominence last year with his performances in the ISSA schoolboy football competitions. The exciting youngster’s highlight reels from the tournament went viral on social media and attracted the attention of several Premier League clubs. Among them, Newcastle United and Chelsea.

Richards spent a trial at Newcastle, but in the end, it was Chelsea who won the race for his signature, as they wrapped up a pre-contract in June.

By then, Richards had already become a fully-fledged senior Jamaican international. He made his senior Reggae Boyz debut in March against Trinidad and Tobago, when he became the youngest player to represent Jamaica in the last 20 years.

Richards was also included in Jamaica’s squad for the Concacaf Gold Cup and got on the scoresheet in a 4-1 win over the Soca Warriors. That goal etched his name in the annals of the country's football history as the youngest Jamaican to score in the competition and the second youngest player overall, behind Canada’s Alphonso Davies.

Having waited patiently until his 18th birthday on November 10th to join Chelsea, the towering striker is now making the most of the opportunity, as he has reportedly impressed coaches with his performances since transitioning to regular first-team training.

Middlesbrough boss Michael Carrick has told his players to embrace the challenge of walking into the lion’s den at Chelsea with a place in the Carabao Cup final at stake.

Boro head coach Carrick saw his team secure a 1-0 first-leg lead at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday evening, which will send them to Stamford Bridge on January 23 with something to defend.

The Sky Bet Championship promotion hopefuls had to endure a tide of pressure on their own pitch to emerge with a clean sheet, and they can expect an onslaught on a night when a repeat would send them to Wembley.

 

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However Carrick, whose side lost 1-0 to Chelsea’s Premier League counterparts Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round at the weekend, said: “It’s embracing it.

“The last two games the boys have coped very, very well with Villa at the weekend and tonight, this being different because it’s obviously a lot further on in the competition and there was much more of an opportunity in this one with the expectations, the hope, the challenge that they faced.

“I couldn’t have hoped or asked for anything more. I keep saying the next one is a totally different one, it’s a new challenge totally.

“The boys will be ready for it and we’ll be ready to perform. We’ll look forward to it and embrace the challenge because it’s an unbelievable challenge and position that we find ourselves in.”

Hackney’s 37th-minute strike, which came after Isaiah Jones had made the most of Dan Barlaser’s fine through ball, ultimately settled a game in which Mauricio Pochettino’s expensively-assembled side dominated possession, but failed to make the most of the chances they created with Cole Palmer passing up no fewer than three himself.

Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo alone cost in excess of £220million, but along with Conor Gallagher, got little change out of a Boro midfield of Hackney, Barlaser and Jonny Howson to leave Carrick purring.

Asked if it was his best night yet as a manager, the 42-year-old former Manchester United and England midfielder said: !It’s as proud as I’ve been, I have to say again, of the players.

“Knowing what they’ve put in and how close a group they are and seeing the stadium supporting the lads right to the end when they needed that bit of help for the last 10 minutes or so, standing there and seeing that made me hugely proud, so it was a good night for that, a really good night for that and hopefully we can create some more of them in the future.”

Pochettino was measured after a disappointing night on Teesside, during which he admitted the Blues had been punished both for their mistakes and their profligacy in front of goal.

The Argentinian said: “I am disappointed because I think we deserved a different result, but sometimes you don’t play well and you win.

“For us, it’s like we need to play well, we need to score goals. We play well, but sometimes we are not clinical enough and sometimes we are punished. That is the process in this moment we are in.

“Always when you are building a team, this kind of scenario is tough because you not only need to play well, but you need to deserve and have some luck.”

Middlesbrough boss Michael Carrick believes his side had to “suffer” to earn a 1-0 win against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup semi-finals.

Hayden Hackney capitalised on missed Chelsea chances, scoring in the 37th minute to hand Boro a valuable advantage going into the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge on January 23.

His goal came after already-depleted Boro were forced into two early changes, with Emmanuel Latte Lath and Alex Bangura taken off with injury in the opening 20 minutes.

They defended well to ensure they are now one leg away from the final of the competition they won back in 2004 and Carrick urged his side to enjoy the victory.

He said post-match: “Listen, it’s very special.

“There’s totally two sides to this one: there’s the game tonight and what we had to go through and suffer a little bit to find a way to win, and there’s obviously the fact that there’s another game.

“I have to credit the players and celebrate their performance and effort, because it’s not easy at all to beat a team like that with the quality that they’ve got and to suffer the kind of injuries that we had as well early on – as if we didn’t have enough injuries to start with.

“Tonight was a really special night, the atmosphere, Hayden scoring, it was such a good night for us, so we’ve got to take that as a one-off and enjoy that to be honest. The second leg is a whole new ball game and we know what we’re walking into and he challenges we face.”

Dan Barlaser’s long pass played Isaiah Jones in behind Levi Colwill to cross into Hackney, who stuck out a leg to stab past Djordje Petrovic.

Carrick said: “Honestly, it couldn’t happen to a nicer lad.

“He’s everything we could ever hope for in a player – he’s humble, he’s hard-working, he’s hugely talented, obviously, and great to work with.”

Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino believes his side were “not clinical enough” as they wasted a trio of brilliant chances in the first half.

Cole Palmer fired wide just before Hackney put Boro ahead then had two more chances, firing over the bar after Tom Glover spilled Enzo Fernandez’s effort before failing to beat the keeper after cutting in from the right.

Pochettino said: “I think we made some mistakes in the first half and we were punished for that.

“We created big chances and we didn’t score, we were not clinical enough, that is so clear.

“We have to credit of course Middlesbrough, it’s the first 90 minutes in the first half of the tie.

“We are losing 1-0 but in two weeks we are going to have the second tie and we need to be positive we can win the game and go to the final.”

Pochettino also refuted suggestions Chelsea players had been booed off the pitch by their visiting fans.

“The fans were reacting with the fans, with Middlesbrough fans, not with our players,” he added.

“Our fans were fantastic as they support us but I think it was Thiago (Silva) and some players, what I hear is they were trying to calm our fans because I think there was a problem between the fans, not between our fans and our players.”

Mauricio Pochettino bemoaned Chelsea’s profligacy following their shock 1-0 loss at Middlesbrough in the first leg of their Carabao Cup semi-final.

The Premier League side dominated at the Riverside Stadium but squandered a host of chances, with Cole Palmer particularly wasteful.

Hayden Hackney’s first-half goal earned the Sky Bet Championship hosts a slender advantage ahead of the return meeting at Stamford Bridge in a fortnight’s time.

“We had too many chances to score where we didn’t score – that is football,” Blues boss Pochettino told Sky Sports.

“Of course we are disappointed. It is the first half of the tie. We have another 90 minutes at Stamford Bridge and we have to be positive.

“We made some mistakes and we were punished for that.”

Some of Chelsea’s travelling fans reacted angrily to the defeat at full-time.

“If we assess the performance, overall we were the better side, we create more chances, we have clear chances,” continued Pochettino.

“But we didn’t score and we were not clinical and that has happened a lot this season – so many games we didn’t win because we weren’t clinical enough.”

Chelsea striker Cole Palmer squandered a hat-trick of chances as Hayden Hackney handed Sky Bet Championship Middlesbrough a priceless first-leg lead in their Carabao Cup semi-final.

The England international, who had earlier been denied by Boro keeper Tom Glover, passed up three opportunities either side of Hackney’s 37th-minute strike, which ensured Michael Carrick’s men will head for Stamford Bridge in a fortnight’s time with a 1-0 lead.

On a night when the 2004 winners managed to frustrate the side who beat them in the 1998 final for long periods, the big-spending Premier League club failed to find top gear despite boss Mauricio Pochettino naming Thiago Silva, Levi Colwill, Enzo Fernandez, Moises Caicedo, Conor Gallagher, Raheem Sterling and Palmer in a strong starting line-up.

For their part, the Teessiders were organised, dogged and a threat on the break, and reaped the rewards three days after suffering a heartbreaking late defeat by top-flight Aston Villa in the FA Cup.

The visitors’ goal came under threat within seconds of kick-off when Colwill’s poorly-directed header delivered the ball straight into the path of Emmanuel Latte Lath, although the striker scuffed his shot straight at keeper Djordje Petrovic as defender Axel Disasi tried desperately to close him down and caught him in his follow-through.

The Boro frontman struggled on after treatment, but eventually limped off to be replaced by Josh Coburn with just five minutes gone.

Palmer forced Glover into a full-length save as Chelsea responded, but with widemen Isaiah Jones and Alex Bangura – whose evening was ended prematurely minutes later by a hamstring injury – enjoying the space afforded to them, the Teessiders made early inroads.

The occasional flurry from Noni Madueke aside, neither team was able to create a chance of note until Colwill headed over from Palmer’s 29th-minute cross, but Jonny Howson was fortunate to get away with a dreadful crossfield pass which put Palmer in on goal two minutes later, only for the 21-year-old to drag his shot wastefully wide.

Chelsea were made to pay with eight minutes of the first half remaining when Dan Barlaser played Jones in behind Colwill and he crossed to Hackney at the near post to stab past Petrovic.

Palmer had two glorious opportunities to level in stoppage time when he spooned the ball over the top after Glover had spilled Enzo Fernandez’s shot from distance, and then failed to beat the keeper after cutting inside from the right.

The visitors remained patient on their return but largely played in front of Boro, who looked comfortable in their shape as they protected a precious advantage with little fuss.

Madueke headed straight at Glover from Fernandez’s 53rd-minute cross and then flashed the ball dangerously across goal after worming his way in from the right, and Gallagher fired wide on the turn eight minutes later amid relentless pressure.

Mykhailo Mudryk and Armando Broja were introduced with little sign of an equaliser imminent and after Barlaser had shot high and wide from a pacy counter-attack, Glover needed two attempts to collect Mudryk’s 73rd-minute attempt.

However, that was as good as it got for Pochettino’s misfiring side, who have work to do on home soil in the deciding leg.

Mauricio Pochettino warned his Chelsea players they will come unstuck in their Carabao Cup semi-final first leg against Middlesbrough if they begin the game as they did Saturday’s FA Cup meeting with Preston.

The Sky Bet Championship side did a comfortable job of containing the Blues during the first half at Stamford Bridge, with the hosts displaying little attacking threat against a team currently 14th in the second tier, before clicking into gear after the break to claim a 4-0 win.

Three goals in 11 second-half minutes from Armando Broja, Thiago Silva and Raheem Sterling ultimately broke the resolve of Ryan Lowe’s side, before Enzo Fernandez added a fourth in the final moments.

It was a far cry from the stolid performance given in the first 45 minutes, with home supporters forced to endure another listless display in the final third, where Chelsea’s build-up play typically broke down.

And Pochettino said a repeat performance at the Riverside against Michael Carrick’s team on Tuesday could see his side miss out on the opportunity to claim their first trophy since 2021.

“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “Middlesbrough is a very good team that we need to respect. (Saturday) was a great example that we need to respect the opponent if we want to beat them.

“If we start the game like (against Preston), we will find it difficult. We need to use this as an example that we need to start like we played the second half.

“We need to be respectful, not to approach the game showing not the right attitude. (The first half) upset me, but the players were disappointed also at half-time. The attitude was completely different in the second half.”

Chelsea last lifted silverware in December 2021 when they beat Brazilian side Palmeiras to win the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, seven months after victory in the Champions League final against Manchester City in Porto.

Pochettino said he is not allowing his players to think about the Carabao Cup final at Wembley while there is still a final hurdle to clear.

“I don’t want to think on (the final),” he said. “I prefer to think only about Middlesbrough. I know that it’s important for the club and for this team because it’s going to be a boost of energy if we get to the final.

“But we need to go step by step because if we think too much long-term, even if it’s only two months, I think we will expend energy and we will be not right.

“What the group needs is to build their confidence step by step. (Saturday) is a good example, in a good way but also not in a good way. We need to realise that on Tuesday we need to play 90 minutes like we played in the second half.”

Mauricio Pochettino praised Armando Broja as one of the most promising young strikers in Europe after his goal helped Chelsea to a 4-0 FA Cup third-round win over Preston.

The 22-year-old started in place of Nicolas Jackson, who is away at the Africa Cup of Nations, and netted his team’s opening goal early in the second half at Stamford Bridge.

Preston had done a fine job in the first period of containing Chelsea, who lacked cutting edge to go with their domination of the ball, but Broja’s strike was the first of three in an 11-minute spell in the second half.

Will Keane was hounded off the ball inside his own box by Mykhailo Mudryk, who laid it back for Malo Gusto to cross and Broja headed in.

Thiago Silva then nodded in a second before Raheem Sterling quickly lashed a free-kick beyond goalkeeper Freddie Woodman.

Enzo Fernandez knocked in a fourth near the end as the gulf to Ryan Lowe’s side – 14th in the Championship – finally showed.

Pochettino praised the contribution of Broja, who returned to fitness in September after nine months out with an ACL injury, and hinted there is more to come from the Albanian striker.

“It was really important for him,” he said. “I need to be honest, he needs to use this type of game to score and to feel the net and to improve. Improve not only in his fitness but his body language also. He needs to step up and to go forward and to move. He needs to smile more and be more positive.

“The potential is amazing. We’re talking about one of the young strikers in England and in Europe with most potential. But the problem now is he needs to push himself, and we’re going to try to help him to realise that never it is enough.

“He was nearly one year away (injured) and of course now he needs time. It’s not easy for him to perform and to be at the level we expect. Our expectation is massive and we really believe in him. We’re going to push him to improve every day.

“I said to him smile. Always we joke about how he needs to smile, to laugh, to put inside himself more good energy and be more happy, a happy boy.”

Preston boss Lowe reflected on a game that got away from his side in the second half after a promising start.

“The three goals in (11) minutes really hurt us,” he said. “I think for large parts of that game, before the 58th minute when they scored, we were fantastic.

“It is disappointing to lose and I don’t think the result reflects the performance, but the fact is they have good quality players who can put the ball in the back of the net.

“I thought our lads were excellent. They gave it their all and that’s the biggest thing I am pleased about.”

Mauricio Pochettino hopes Chelsea can use the FA Cup to qualify for Europe next season despite their indifferent Premier League form.

The Blues host Preston at Stamford Bridge in the third round on Saturday and will be looking for respite for what has been a mixed league campaign during the manager’s first six months in charge.

They currently sit 10th, with an 11-point gap to make up on fifth and what would be a guaranteed spot in the Europa League.

A successful cup run culminating in victory in the Wembley final in May would earn them a place in the competition next term, whilst they will also be looking to secure a back-up spot in the Conference League by winning the Carabao Cup.

Pochettino’s side face Middlesbrough in the semi-final of that competition over two legs beginning on Tuesday, with the second leg set for January 23.

But with little sign so far of the consistency that will be required over the second half of the season to qualify via their league position, cup ties during the coming weeks look increasingly critical, starting with Saturday’s meeting with the side currently 14th in the Championship.

“Of course (we can win the FA Cup),” said Pochettino. “The Carabao Cup and the FA Cup are competitions we need to try to go far.

“But we need to build our run step by step and the first step is (Saturday). It’s a really important competition for us, because we are not in Europe.

“In the Premier League, we are in a position that we need to grow and improve a lot if we want to be in Europe next season. Through the FA Cup or Carabao Cup we can achieve that.

“It’s really important because we had three competitions at the beginning (of the season) and we’re still in them.”

Pochettino confirmed there will not be wholesale changes from the team that won 3-2 against Luton last time out.

He hinted at a possible start for striker Armando Broja, with Christopher Nkunku fit only for the bench and Nicolas Jackson having departed for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Long-term absentees Ben Chilwell and Carney Chukwuemeka – out since September and August respectively – are not yet ready to return, whilst Romeo Lavia has suffered yet another injury setback after making his debut in December.

“We are going to treat it like a Premier League game,” said the manager. “Just because it’s the FA Cup and it’s a Championship team, we are going to respect Preston. You will see we are going to put in place a starting XI with all the guarantees to perform.

“Armando is going to be a possibility to play. But Christopher is not going to start. He suffered some issue during the week. We need to be careful with him after the last six months where he didn’t compete.

“We really trust in (Broja). He has an amazing potential and quality. Now he must forget his (ACL) injury from the last year and start to behave normally.

“Chilwell and Carney are not available, we’ll see for Middlesbrough and Fulham (on January 13). They’re doing well, training with the group the last few days. We are happy with their evolution.

“Lavia, we still don’t know when he will be available again.”

Chelsea survived a spirited late fightback by Luton to edge a dramatic match 3-2 at Kenilworth Road and end their four-game losing streak away from home.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side looked to be cruising to a first victory on the road since early November thanks to two goals from Cole Palmer – his second a sensational piece of individual skill – and one from Noni Madueke who scored for the second time in two games as the visitors took a 3-0 lead.

But that breathing room was sucked away by Luton during a frenetic final 10 minutes, when first Ross Barkley then Elijah Adebayo struck to offer their supporters hope of a spectacular recovery.

Yet Chelsea held their nerve, claiming back-to-back league wins for just the second time under Pochettino.

They had taken the lead after 12 minutes and it was a gift from Luton.

First, the defence was caught out up the pitch and allowed Nicolas Jackson to run in from the left and through on goal. His effort was saved well by the legs of Thomas Kaminski and the ball fell at the feet of Issa Kabore, who instead of clearing his lines played an inexplicable pass straight to the lurking Palmer who took a touch and lashed it home.

Luton looked to Barkley, the former Chelsea player, for a response and he nearly provided it almost instantly, hitting a free-kick from 20 yards out that curved around the wall and cleared the bar by inches.

Chelsea were on their worst run of away league defeats in 23 years, whilst Luton had just recorded back-to-back top-flight wins for the first time this season. Yet in the first half the visitors posed much the clearer threat, attacking with a directness that has often been lacking on the road.

After 37 minutes they got their second, and it was Madueke fresh from scoring the winner against Crystal Palace on Wednesday that got it.

The ball was worked from the left flank over to the right via Palmer playing in the number 10 role. He moved it on again to Madueke, whose route to goal was barred by Amari’i Bell. Luton’s captain backed off, encouraging the Chelsea winger to run outside him and find space to thump the ball high inside the near post into the top corner.

Luton’s key creative outlets, Barkley and Andros Townsend, had been largely nullified by Chelsea’s determined pressing and harrying.

Palmer slotted easily back into his role as the visitors’ principle attacking outlet after serving a one-match suspension, whilst Jackson and Armando Broja were lively and Malo Gusto looked an increasingly able deputy to the injured Reece James at right-back.

The third goal when it came on 70 minutes was well deserved.

Jackson was clever and strong in midfield to spin away from his man and play an early ball through the middle to Palmer. Kaminski raced out to meet him, but as Palmer reached it he outfoxed the Luton goalkeeper with the deftest roll of the ball beneath his studs, sat the covering Albert Sambi Lokonga down and knocked in Chelsea’s third.

Adebayo thought he had got one back when he headed in Alfie Doughty’s cross, but VAR called offside against the winger, before Adebayo headed his next chance against the bar.

There was life in Luton and they proved it with two goals in seven minutes to stun Chelsea.

First, Barkley headed what looked a consolation from a corner, then Adebayo reacted quickest to turn the ball home after Djordje Petrovic had saved from Doughty.

Luton pushed and pushed in the closing minutes but a determined Chelsea held firm.

Mauricio Pochettino thanked Chelsea supporters for the reception given to Nicolas Jackson during the 2-1 home win against Crystal Palace, as the striker prepares to play for the final time before departing for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Pochettino takes his team to play Luton on Saturday lunchtime looking to build on Wednesday’s victory at Stamford Bridge and end a run of four consecutive away Premier League defeats.

Jackson was jeered by his own fans when he was substituted during the second half of the loss to Wolves on Christmas Eve, but recovered to give one of his more impressive performances for the club against Palace.

He had a goal disallowed for a fractional offside, finishing brilliantly on the volley from Axel Disasi’s cross, and showed good movement to get on the end of a pass from Conor Gallagher before shooting wide.

He also set up Mykhailo Mudryk in the first half with an intelligent back heel, but the Ukrainian’s effort was blocked by Palace goalkeeper Dean Henderson.

The manager emphasised that the 22-year-old Senegal international, who is the team’s top scorer with eight in all competitions, does not yet have the experience that previous Chelsea strikers brought with them when joining the club.

“(Against Palace) he was really good,” Pochettino. “He was only missing a goal. In the way he worked for team and ran and pressed, he was amazing.

“We are putting too much focus on him. We need to give him time, we need to believe in him. I think it was really nice the fans in the moment he missed the chances, they were very supportive. I really appreciate the fans that support him.

“Only with time he is going to be more relaxed and calm. Already he has scored goals, it’s not that he doesn’t score. If we check in the past, strikers that arrive at different clubs in England, if they can perform in the first season.

“We’re in months (since he joined), but (people) want that he score goals like (Didier) Drogba or (Jimmy Floyd) Hasselbaink. They came with different experience. You have to look at the background of the player. He’s young, came from Spain, not playing too much. He’s a very good prospect, amazing potential.

“Playing for Chelsea is not the same as playing for a different club, with all respect. The pressure is always when you took the ball to be fantastic.”

Pochettino said that he expected to play a role in any transfer business the club might conduct in January.

Previously targets have been selected by co-sporting directors Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart but the manager confirmed he will have a say over possible new recruits.

He has spoken in recent weeks about a possible need for reinforcements if results and performances do not improve.

“It’s obvious that a head coach or manager is going to be involved,” he said. “It’s crazy to think I won’t be involved in any decision for the future in my area.

“We are going share (opinions) with the owners and sporting director. I cannot conceive the idea of not being involved.”

Noni Madueke believes Chelsea have finally found answers to the goalscoring problems that plagued them last season.

The England Under-21 international came off the bench to fire Mauricio Pochettino’s side to a 2-1 win at home to Crystal Palace on Wednesday, slotting the winner from the penalty spot in the 89th minute after being fouled by Eberechi Eze.

Earlier Michael Olise, who nearly became a Chelsea player in the summer, had equalised on the stroke of half-time after the hosts had failed to build on Mykhailo Mudryk’s 13th-minute opener.

There were chances for Mudryk, Nicolas Jackson and Ian Maatsen on his first start to add to the hosts’ tally but a combination of wayward finishing and Palace goalkeeper Dean Henderson kept Roy Hodgson’s side in it, until Madueke’s late intervention.

Chelsea netted only 38 Premier League goals last campaign, their lowest in the league in almost a century, but already have 31 at the halfway stage this time around.

They have been boosted by the return to fitness of last season’s Bundesliga top-scorer Christopher Nkunku who made a full debut against Palace and was a threat at number 10.

And Madueke feels confident that a corner has been turned.

“We play good football and are scoring goals now,” said the 21-year-old. “I remember last season we weren’t scoring those goals.

“We’re probably conceding a few too many, but I just feel it’s that consistency we need to get down. Once we do, we’ll be a really good team.

“We’ve had some very good performances this season where we haven’t got the rub of the green. It’s a process and where we are now will not define us come the end of the season.”

It was Chelsea’s third league win in a row at home and their fourth in all competitions, though that run has been cut with a streak of four consecutive away losses.

It is their longest sequence of victories at Stamford Bridge since October 2022 and saw them climb back into the top half of the table.

“(This) was a must-win game,” said Madueke. “There have been similar games in the season that we should have won and haven’t quite got the rub of the green, so I’m happy we’ve done the business and got the three points.”

Madueke also reflected on his impact from the bench having been handed just his eighth league appearance or the season, of which only one has been from the start.

He added: “It’s been a stop-start campaign for me. I’ve had little niggles, little injuries, things that haven’t quite gone my way.

“I’m happy to have an impact off the bench (against Palace) and whether I start the next game or have the same impact off the bench is up to the manager.”

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