Soccer

Mauricio Pochettino says Christopher Nkunku is not ready to take on Newcastle

Wesley Fofana is unlikely to be fit before the new year (Martin Rickett/PA)
Wesley Fofana is unlikely to be fit before the new year (Martin Rickett/PA) Wesley Fofana is unlikely to be fit before the new year (Martin Rickett/PA)

Mauricio Pochettino has confirmed that Christopher Nkunku will not be fit to be involved in Chelsea’s visit to Newcastle on Saturday.

There had been hopes that the £52million summer signing from RB Leipzig would have sufficiently recovered from the knee injury he sustained on the pre-season tout of the United States to play a part at St James’ Park.

But, despite being fit enough to have taken part in training with the first team, the 26-year-old has not worked tactically with the squad and will not travel.

Chelsea struggled without the France international in Pochettino’s first Premier League games in charge, with the goalscoring problems that he had been acquired to help solve carrying over from a tumultuous campaign last season during which the team scored fewer league goals than they had in almost a century.

Those issues have become less urgent in recent weeks, with four goals scored on three separate occasions against Burnley, Tottenham and Manchester City.

By contrast, the team had not previously scored four times in a game since April 2022.

“(Nkunku) was doing things with the group last week,” said Pochettino. “But he’s not fully recovered to be part of the squad.

“He’s a fantastic player, top scorer in the Bundesliga last season. He can play different positions, his quality is amazing. It’s really bad luck to lose him from the beginning of the season.

“We’re going to find the best way for him to fit in the team. He’s going to find massive competition. His team-mates are ahead of him, they’ve had four months of competition. He needs to build his form and be at his best level.

“We need to understand he’s coming back from injury, he will need time. We will be patient with him.

“It’s not a competition (the Premier League) that he’s normally used to. He came from Europe, he needs to recover from injury but also to know the league. It’ll take time to perform at his best.”

Pochettino confirmed that Romeo Lavia, signed in the last week of the transfer window from Southampton for £53m, is also nearing fitness but is slightly behind the progress made by Nkunku.

Wesley Fofana
Wesley Fofana Wesley Fofana is unlikely to be fit before the new year (Martin Rickett/PA)

Wesley Fofana has trained on grass at Cobham as he continues his rehabilitation from an ACL injury, though is unlikely to be available before the new year.

Chelsea had come into form prior to the international break with five wins from eight in all competitions, a run which saw them score 19 times having previously netted only seven in their first seven under Pochettino.

The manager is hopeful that the pause will not have disrupted his side’s rhythm ahead of their visit to face Eddie Howe’s side.

“The break came at a bad time,” he said. “It came in a moment we were building a way to play, results were on our side. But I believe we can keep momentum even after two weeks with no competition.”

Pochettino added that the squad has held group discussions about why performances and results have been better this season against the stronger teams – draws with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City and victory over Spurs – while there have been home losses to Brentford, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa.

“It’s part of the process,” he said. “We’re a young team, we started to work four months ago. We need to be more mature, more patient. We cannot get frustrated so soon when things don’t work.

“Expectation creates nervousness when you play a team with less quality than you. You take rushed decisions, get frustrated. You want to do the job of your team-mate.”