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Pochettino’s Chelsea take ‘massive step’ after stop-start season

CHELSEA’S first back-to-back Premier League wins in four months suggest Mauricio Pochettino’s young side is finally finding their feet as they chase what until recently had looked like an unlikely target of European competition next season.

Sunday’s 5-0 hammering of West Ham United – with Nicolas Jackson scoring twice – represented the second London derby victory in four days for the high-spending but inconsistent Blues, after a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday.

It was the first time that Chelsea won two league games in a row since a run of three wins spanning December and January, and it was the first time all season that they kept two consecutive clean sheets.

Chelsea coach Mauricio Pochettino said his team had taken a “massive step” forward and was coming together as a group after being assembled in a splurge of signings over the two years since a U.S. private-equity-led group bought the club.

“Always it’s a process that takes time,” the Argentine told reporters.

“You never know if it’s going to take one month, six months or one year, but I think the most important thing is that they start to settle the principles, that they start to feel and live as a group.”

There have been false dawns before in Pochettino’s first season at Stamford Bridge.

After a last-gasp 4-3 win over Manchester United in early April, he said Chelsea seemed to be at a turning point only for them to be held to a 2-2 draw by bottom club Sheffield United and then suffer a 5-0 thrashing at Arsenal later in the month.

READ:  Premier League talking points

But there are now signs that the youngest squad in the Premier League are starting to gel.

Pochettino noted how Noni Madueke had unselfishly squared the ball to Jackson for the Senegal striker’s first goal, a far cry from a squabble involving both players over who would take a penalty against Everton three weeks ago.

“Who knows about football knows to build the team is the most important thing,” said the former Spurs manager who has endured criticism from some Chelsea fans in recent weeks, as well as speculation about his future in the media.

There was further encouragement for Pochettino as several top players returned to the squad after a spate of injuries including striker Christopher Nkunku and defender Malo Gusto who both came off the bench in the second half.

Chelsea sit seventh in the table, occupying the Europa League Conference qualifying spot, two points behind Newcastle United who are sixth in the second of the two Europa League berths. Manchester United would leapfrog both clubs if they beat Crystal Palace on Monday.

Pochettino acknowledged that a season without trophies could not be considered a success at two-time European champions Chelsea but qualification for Europe would be a positive.

Chelsea travel to Nottingham Forest on Saturday and Brighton & Hove Albion on May 15 before their season finale at home to Bournemouth on May 19.

READ:  Premier League talking points
By WILLIAM SCHOMBERG

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