Soccer-Pochettino says Chelsea show bravery to beat Leeds after criticism

Soccer Football - FA Cup - Fifth Round - Chelsea v Leeds United - Stamford Bridge, London, Britain - February 28, 2024 Chelsea's Malo Gusto in action with Leeds United's Jaidon Anthony REUTERS/Tony Obrien

LONDON (Reuters) -Chelsea coach Mauricio Pochettino said his team showed bravery to beat Leeds United 3-2 in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday after being criticised for the way they lost the League Cup final to Liverpool at the weekend.

Conor Gallagher's winner in the 90th minute sent the Blues into the last eight, easing some of the pressure on Pochettino who has struggled to turn his expensive squad into a cohesive team since arriving at Stamford Bridge last summer.

"This type of performance shows that we are brave and we can win games... We know who we are," the Argentine told reporters after conceding his side's showing against second-tier Leeds - who took an early lead - "was not a great performance".

Pochettino dismissed criticism by former Manchester United player Gary Neville, now a television pundit, who slammed Chelsea as "billion-pound bottle jobs" after their 1-0 loss to Liverpool at Wembley Stadium.

"If people want to run and run and run with this comment, for us it is not important," he said. "It's an opinion and that's it and we move on."

The London side are struggling in mid-table in the Premier League and the FA Cup represents their last realistic chance of silverware.

It was the first time Leeds and Chelsea had met in the FA Cup since the now notorious 1970 final replay, a violent, attritional battle that ended in victory for Chelsea and led to half a century of intense rivalry between the two sets of fans.

There was a strong police presence outside Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

The Blues got off to a bad start in the eighth minute when Leeds took the lead after a defensive mix-up playing out from a goal kick allowed Mateo Joseph to score his first senior goal for the visitors.

Chelsea replied with two goals from flowing moves in the 15th and 37th minutes and fine finishes from Senegal's Nicolas Jackson and Ukrainian Mykhailo Mudryk.

Leeds upped the intensity in the second half as Chelsea appeared to tire after playing 120 minutes on Sunday.

The visitors were rewarded in the 59th minute with a free header from the unmarked Joseph.

Pochettino left key players out of his starting 11 but brought on stalwarts Gallagher and Ben Chilwell as well as top scorer Cole Palmer, a trio who had worked hard at Wembley, in the second half.With another punishing round of extra time looming, Gallagher latched on to a pass from Argentine midfielder Enzo Fernandez, turned and shot home to take Chelsea into the last eight where they will meet Championship side Leicester City.

(Additional reporting by William SchombergEditing by Toby Davis)

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