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Chelsea hope Carabao Cup success can be first form of vindication

When the ambition is to build a dynasty there is little point in reading too much into the outcome of one game. At Chelsea, where preparations for the first men’s final under Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital are almost over, they know that it is too soon to get carried away. Nobody, not even an ownership that has received so much criticism since arriving in English football, will fall into the trap of thinking that the job has been completed if Mauricio Pochettino’s side beat Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday.

Equally there will be people within Stamford Bridge claiming some form of vindication if Chelsea see the first tangible return on Boehly’s and Clearlake’s investment in the squad during the past two years. The mockery has not gone unnoticed. Schadenfreude is the best way of describing the reaction to Chelsea sliding into mid-table obscurity under owners who have employed five managers and spent about £1bn on signings in three transfer windows.

The appraisals have not been kind. Boehly and the other co-controlling owners, Behdad Eghbali and José Feliciano, have been accused of being brash and overbearing. Some supporters complain that their connection with the club is broken. The mood was febrile during last month’s home defeat to Wolves.

But while it is common to hear people within football query Chelsea building such a young squad, within the club there is indignation at claims they have no plan. There is a plan. The real question is whether it will work.

Opinions vary. “He doesn’t know what he’s letting himself in for,” one source said when Pochettino took over as manager last summer. People described the training ground as a toxic environment. A huge clearout took place, ageing players leaving, and Chelsea ramped up the youth project. The spending went into overdrive when they signed Moisés Caicedo for £115m.

The churn has been bewildering. Pochettino has battled with his side’s inexperience. He has bemoaned silly red cards, casual defending and shoddy finishing. Injuries have hit hard. The treatment room has been packed and Chelsea have played most of the season without their captain, Reece James. They are a different team when James plays.

But every so often comes a glimpse of what this young team may achieve. Humiliated away to Liverpool last month and then by Wolves, Chelsea responded by knocking Aston Villa out of the FA Cup, beating Crystal Palace and holding firm in last week’s 1-1 draw away to City.

Chelsea were inventive and dangerous on the break against City. Pochettino’s game plan worked until his team tired and City rejigged their system in the second half. “You see moments of tactical brilliance from Mauricio,” a source says.

Chelsea are happy with Pochettino, even though they are in 10th place. The defeats by Wolves and Liverpool gave the team a shock.

The positive reaction is a sign that the players are behind Pochettino, who has given them belief and a plan. It helps, too, that he is said to have a strong relationship with the board. If he has been tense at times it is not because of pressure from above. Chelsea remember last year’s abrupt dismissals of Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter. They know their manager has to feel supported.

A harmonious atmosphere helps. When Tuchel’s Chelsea met Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final two years ago, Roman Abramovich had just relinquished control of the club after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Boehly and Clearlake had a blank canvas by the time they arrived. The first summer was chaotic. Boehly stepped in as interim sporting director. There was no strategy to a lot of signings.

The dynamic is different now. Boehly has stepped back and Chelsea have built a recruitment structure. Paul Winstanley and Laurence Stewart have arrived as co-sporting directors. Joe Shields, the co-director of recruitment and talent, is popular. Chelsea hope that their rivals will be afraid of them in two or three years.

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Will it work? Outsiders have sniped at the sporting directors but Chelsea have not bought into the negativity around Stewart and Winstanley. An acknowledgement of Caicedo and Enzo Fernández costing too much is accompanied by a comment about how well the two South Americans fared against City’s midfield.

Malo Gusto, 20, has emerged as viable cover for James. The feeling is that Chelsea are better without their 39-year-old centre-back Thiago Silva, who is a doubt for the final. Axel Disasi, 25, and Levi Colwill, 20, showed personality in central defence against City. Cole Palmer has been one of the signings of the season.

The view is that Stewart and Winstanley have done well in the circumstances. Longstanding staff members are encouraged by the changes taking place. Chelsea want to help Stewart and Winstanley go from good to great. They want to improve the medical department and add more data-led scouting. Sam Jewell, Brighton’s head of recruitment, will join Chelsea later this year.

Perhaps Chelsea will have the last laugh. They have focused on cutting their wage bill, and signing players on incentivised eight-year deals allowed them to spread the cost of transfers thanks to the accountancy practice of amortisation. Whether that plan survives Premier League clubs voting to limit to five years the time over which payments for a transfer can be spread remains to be seen. Financial fair play is a factor, even if Chelsea are confident they will not step out of line. Fans would not take well to academy players being sold because of the bottom line.

Financial realities could bite. Victory over Liverpool would put Chelsea in the Europa Conference League but they need to be in the Champions League and they are 14 points below fourth place. They remain a work in progress.

But the mood remains calm. Just as losing at Wembley would not mean the project has failed, winning would not mean it has succeeded. After all, it took Jürgen Klopp four years to win his first trophy at Liverpool. “Success isn’t measured by games,” a source says. “It’s measured by years.”

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