Soccer

Mauricio Pochettino defends Chelsea after ‘bottle jobs’ jibe from Gary Neville

Sky Sports pundit Neville had hit out at Chelsea’s performance in their Carabao Cup final defeat to Liverpool.

Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino saw his side beaten by Liverpool at Wembley
Chelsea v Liverpool – Carabao Cup – Final – Wembley Stadium Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino saw his side beaten by Liverpool at Wembley (Nick Potts/PA)

Mauricio Pochettino defended his players after “not fair” criticism from Gary Neville – who labelled Chelsea “blue billion pound bottle jobs” as they lost the Carabao Cup final to Liverpool in extra time.

Liverpool captain Virgil Van Dijk’s glancing header secured a 1-0 win for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who were missing as many as 11 injured players for the Wembley showpiece and relied on young, inexperienced players to come on late in the game.

Chelsea had the likes of £100million midfielders Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo on the pitch and were able to turn to almost £150m worth of talent from their own bench.

After Van Dijk – who had controversially seen a header chalked off by VAR in normal time – headed in the winner, Sky Sports pundit Neville, the former Manchester United and England defender, said: “In extra time it has been Klopp’s kids against the blue billion pound bottle jobs.”

Pochettino, though, defended his stars and pointed to the age of his own players as a comparison to Liverpool’s teenagers.

“I don’t hear what he said but if you compare the age of the two groups, I think it is similar,” he said when told what Neville had called his team.

“But look, I have a good relationship with Gary and I don’t know how I can take this but I respect his opinion. Of course, we made a few changes like (Conor) Gallagher and (Ben) Chilwell in extra time but it is true we didn’t keep the energy that was how we finished in the second half.

“I don’t know how you can describe this situation but for sure I feel proud of the players, I think they made a big effort.

“We are a young team and nothing to compare with Liverpool because they finished also with a few young players. It is impossible to compare and he knows that. He knows the dynamics are completely different.

“I think it is not fair to talk in this way if he says that. But we are going to keep strong and believing in this project and see what we can do in the future.”

Pochettino, who has now lost the three major finals he has reached while managing in England at both Chelsea and Tottenham, told his squad they needed to feel hurt by the setback.

Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville was unimpressed by Chelsea’s performance in extra time
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville was unimpressed by Chelsea’s performance in extra time (John Walton/PA)

“They need to feel the pain,” he added.

“We played for a trophy we didn’t get and now, it is the same – what can you tell me to feel better? Nothing. They need to feel the pain like us and of course, they need to realise we need to work more, do better things, we need to improve.”

The Argentinian pointed to Liverpool’s own progression under Klopp as an example for Chelsea to follow in the coming years.

“To compete in this level with this team that in the last five, six, seven years is competing for big things, it is about to arrive here and then feel what it means to play for a big trophy,” he said.

Virgil van Dijk scored Liverpool’s winner at Wembley
Chelsea v Liverpool – Carabao Cup – Final – Wembley Stadium Virgil van Dijk scored Liverpool’s winner at Wembley (Adam Davy/PA)

“I remember after three or four years at Liverpool, they lose the Champions League, the Europa League, they keep believing and moving the project (forward) and work on the next season stronger until they get what they wanted.

“That is a good example. If we want to challenge a team like Liverpool, it is not to be frustrated today because we didn’t get the trophy. It is taking the example that we need to keep believing.”

Chelsea had also seen a goal ruled out after former Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling tapped home a Nicolas Jackson cross in the first half, only for the Senegal international to be marginally ahead of the defence.

In slipping to defeat, the Blues become the first English team to lose six successive domestic cup finals, with Chelsea now turning an eye to Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash with Leeds.