Chelsea’s penalty debacle proves one thing about their ridiculous season

Mauricio Pochettino has called for his young squad to be shown patience throughout the season, but the Chelsea manager now needs discipline after the on-field spat overshadowed his side’s 6-0 win over Everton

Jamie Braidwood
Tuesday 16 April 2024 14:44 BST
Pochettino ‘so upset’ with Chelsea stars over penalty bust-up despite huge win

It was an argument straight from the playground. Even as Chelsea cruised to their best win of the season, Mauricio Pochettino’s side somehow found a way to remind everyone of how far there is to go before this young team can be taken seriously. “If they behave like kids, it’s impossible,” sighed Pochettino, unable to hide his frustration.

Immature? A team of individuals? An absence of leadership on the pitch? Chelsea have been accused of all of the above and more this season – and so a very public falling out over a second-half penalty at Stamford Bridge showed exactly what Pochettino is up against in his own dressing room. Cole Palmer, Chelsea’s star player and a contender now for footballer of the year, is the club’s designated penalty taker, yet the actions of Noni Madueke and Nicolas Jackson in attempting to claim the penalty for themselves not only overshadowed a brilliant 6-0 win over Everton but threatened to undermine their manager’s authority.

Pochettino could have decided to downplay the incident. Instead, his reaction was telling. Pochettino was furious and recognised that Madueke and Jackson attempting to skip the queue was illustrative of Chelsea’s problems this season; struggles with inconsistency, a woeful defensive record and a frequent inability to hold onto leads in the Premier League all have their roots in a lack of cohesion and unity. Arguing on the pitch hardly painted the picture of a bonded Chelsea squad.

Nicolas Jackson and Noni Madueke attempt to claim the penalty from Cole Palmer (Getty)

Its arrival came completely unexpectedly: Chelsea were 4-0 up and cruising to their best win of the season, a long-overdue evening for the home fans at Stamford Bridge to celebrate. It had been sparked by Palmer – nothing unusual there – and his sublime first-half hat-trick, but it was added to by improved displays from all over the pitch. There were signs, perhaps, to trust the process and believe in Pochettino’s plans. After all, Pochettino’s side are now only three points off sixth with a game in hand.

But no one is talking about that now. As Everton capitulated and conceded a penalty – with Palmer, again, fouled in the box – Madueke and Jackson raced to grab the ball from Malo Gusto. Madueke got there first to wrestle the ball out from his teammate’s grasp, but Jackson was adamant it was his to take. Madueke and Jackson continued to argue over the ball, even as the 39-year-old Thiago Silva attempted to defuse the tension.

Then came captain Conor Gallagher, who pushed away Jackson and then Madueke, and handed Palmer the ball. Issue resolved? Not quite. Jackson continued to argue with Gallagher, who shoved him again. Even as Palmer stood over the penalty, after a delay of around two minutes, Madueke was still attempting to make his case and had to be held back by Gusto and Caicedo.

All of this, of course, unfolded in front of a rather frustrated Stamford Bridge crowd, and a fanbase that has already grown disillusioned with the club’s ownership, and is distanced from the players on the pitch and the manager in the dugout. If there is one thing they could agree on, it was who they wanted to take the penalty: Palmer cheered as he emerged from the scrum holding the ball, and duly scored his fourth of the game.

Pochettino was clear that Palmer should have taken the penalty (Getty)

If Palmer wanted to take the penalty, it shouldn’t have been a discussion. Palmer is the designated taker and had scored all eight he had taken in the Premier League this season, including high-pressure moments in the last minute against both Manchester City and Manchester United. He may have already completed his hat-trick, perhaps giving Madueke and Jackson the impression that, at 4-0, this one was available, but deviating from the pre-match instructions reflected badly on Pochettino. “Who’s in charge, Poch?!”, shouted one fan from the stands.

It was also not the first time it had happened this season, with Raheem Sterling and Palmer arguing over who should take a penalty against Leicester last month, and Sterling missing. There had been a conversation afterwards and Pochettino was understandably livid that it had happened again. “The players know, the club knows that Palmer is the penalty-taker,” he said. “I’m so, so upset.”

And yet, it was entirely in keeping with Chelsea’s season, and the problem their lavish spending spree has created. On average, Chelsea have fielded the second-youngest starting line-up in the Premier League this season. But age alone is not the issue: title-contenders Arsenal have the third-youngest starting line-up. What is clear, again, is that Pochettino’s squad lacks senior figures and leadership. For the £1bn spent under Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali, the lack of experience recruited by Chelsea is a damning oversight.

Chelsea’s mentality has been questioned – particularly for the manner in which they surrendered the Carabao Cup final against Liverpool in extra-time – Pochettino has regularly asked for his young players to be shown patience. This, though, was the moment he had seen enough. “The discipline is going to be stronger,” Pochettino said. It needs to be.

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