Soccer-Nkunku out as Pochettino faces crucial clash with Leeds

Soccer Football - Carabao Cup - Final - Chelsea v Liverpool - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - February 25, 2024 Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino before the match Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs/ File photo

LONDON (Reuters) - Chelsea host second-tier Leeds United in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday with their season, and possibly the future of manager Mauricio Pochettino, hanging on the line.

A narrow defeat by Liverpool in Sunday's League Cup final denied Pochettino his first silverware in English football and the sort of statement result that could kick-start his reign.

It means victory over Leeds is now imperative if Chelsea's disappointing season is not to fizzle out completely and their cause will not be helped with forward Christopher Nkunku again ruled out as his injury woes return.

Defeat by an injury-ravaged Liverpool has again turned the spotlight on Pochettino, just when it appeared as though the Argentine might solving the Stamford Bridge puzzle.

His side are in the bottom half of the Premier League with a slender chance of securing European qualification and defeat by Leeds would be hugely damaging to the former Tottenham Hotspur manager who was grilled by reporters on Tuesday.

"Of course we are so disappointed, Chelsea is about winning," Pochettino said of the 1-0 loss at Wembley.

"Liverpool spent four years, (Juergen) Klopp didn't win a title but got the support from the club. Now they are getting what they deserve because of that.

"For us, after seven or eight months, to get to the final is a massive achievement in this project."

Pochettino said he received a 'nice message' from the club's American chairman Todd Boehly after the final and when asked whether the project was working, Pochettino said that it depended on which way you looked at it.

"We are in a good way, in the moment, in the process, that is normal to be," he said. "Then you can call (it) 'successful', no? Being in a final and losing? Maybe you can say it's disastrous. That depends on how you judge."

One thing is certain, any Chelsea hangover will be punished by an in-form Leeds side who have won nine successive games in the Championship to move into second place in the standings.

"Now we need to keep the spirit up and of course move on and be ready for tomorrow," Pochettino said. "We want to go to the end (of the FA Cup) and we have a very good opponent in front (of us) in Leeds. We need to be strong, have energy.

"The players want to be there, to be involved and to show that we are in a way that is going to be good for the team."

On Nkunku's situation, Pochettino said: "We need to see and evaluate every day but he's out for three or four weeks. We hope no more. It's difficult for him.

"We watched him when he arrived in pre-season. He was flying on the training pitch until he got injured. Now it is nearly eight months and he has been involved again but he is not the same player as before."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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