Mauricio Pochettino reacts to Gary Neville’s ‘bottlejobs’ row-back and clarifies extra-time remark

Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino
The Argentine has launched a passionate defence of his side (Picture: Chelsea / YouTube)

Mauricio Pochettino has hit back at critics of his Chelsea team after Gary Neville branded them ‘billion-pound bottlejobs’ while he has clarified remarks he made about the side’s approach in extra-time of the Carabao Cup final.

The Blues were beaten 1-0 by an injury-hit and inexperienced Liverpool side at Wembley, with Virgil van Dijk’s 118th-minute header deciding the contest, and Chelsea’s players were skewered afterwards for failing to capitalise on a golden opportunity to win silverware.

Neville described them as ‘bottlejobs’ in the immediate aftermath and while he does not regret using the term, he has since admitted that his turn of phrase was a little ‘harsh’ and hopes the tag does not stick with them.

Speaking ahead of facing Leeds United in the FA Cup, Pochettino acknowledged that Neville had tempered his criticism but felt the flak that came his side’s way was not reflective of the game itself.

In a lengthy answer at his pre-match press conference, the Argentine said: ‘We have to put it all in context, I think, to explain a little bit the situation. I think we cannot go too far away from a game of football, we need to always talk about what we are seeing in the game.

‘And always I respect the opinion of every single pundit and of course you [the press] when you have a comment through what you are seeing in the game.

‘And then Gary, I have a very good relationship with him. But that doesn’t mean that maybe sometimes it can be unfair in my opinion. In this case I think it’s not fair the comment. But of course he tried yesterday to make a little bit softer the comment.

‘But we need to put it all in context. I think after 90 minutes we were the better side and we deserved to win. The last 10 or 15 minutes we created too many chances to score. We were not clinical enough and then I think you always need some luck to score the goal and win the game.

Chelsea v Liverpool - Carabao Cup Final
Chelsea spurned a host of excellent chances at Wembley (Picture: Getty)

‘And I think if we won the game in the 90 minutes, all the people would talk in a different way today and maybe we’d be geniuses and what amazing players we would have and everything.’

Pochettino also came under fire for saying his players had one eye on penalties during extra-time after noticeably becoming more passive, though he felt his words were taken out of context and insists he did try to win the match before spot-kicks came into the equation.

He continued: ‘We did not manage the extra-time well because the team started to feel really tired for different circumstances that I can explain.

‘But our message was to go for the game. We put on [Christopher] Nkunku, we put on [Mykhailo] Mudryk and Noni Madueke and we refreshed our attack to try and go. They are explosive with pace up front with the capacity to score goals. We didn’t change offensive players for defensive players, I think we go [for it].

‘But of course after [Conor] Gallagher was tired, Chilly [Ben Chilwell] with some problems, and then we get told yesterday that Nkunku was injured. We don’t know when he got injured.

‘And also I want to clarify, because sometimes people take my words and use not in the right context, when you asked me in the press conference I said maybe the players in the end when they start to feel that they lose their energy – because we were tired – then you think about not losing the game and go to the penalties.

‘I said that, but we never set up the team to go to penalties. Come on! We are brave people, we are a brave team that always you know are going to go to try to win in 90 minutes or, after, in extra-time.

‘But that is not to use this word, because I said maybe, maybe, but always before the extra-time and at half-time of it, we always said, “Hey, come on, we need to go” that is why we put offensive players on to try to win the game.

‘That didn’t happen, which is why now we need to accept all the opinions. But, be careful, because we need to analyse that that was the game. We had some transitions as well in extra-time, 4-v-3, where the decision wasn’t the best in the last third. But in the end extra-time was even, maybe they controlled it a little bit more.

‘And then in the end their best players, the best players in the game afterwards, it was close, were [Caoimhin] Kelleher – the goalkeeper for Liverpool – and Van Dijk, who scored and that was the difference in extra-time.’

Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino v Liverpool - Carabao Cup Final
Pochettino has defended his players and their performance (Picture: Getty)

He added: ‘If we analyse the 90 minutes, I think we were the better team. Of course we feel the disappointment, but that is the analysis.

‘If people want to talk in a different way, that I didn’t say hello to Todd [Boehly] or I didn’t shake hands with Todd, or my friend Gary that is in reference. It’s good for me because I am not an Englishman and sometimes I struggle to understand what means, the sentences or the words, but I think in our life we want to be with people that are brave. All my friends are brave. And Gary also. We are all brave. Football is football. After it’s difficult to explain.’

Asked further about the criticism his players have faced, he added: ‘I back my players and I’m always going to be with my players. It’s not the same to judge a player in this project, the Chelsea project, to another place.

‘We need to accept sometimes the criticism because we are at Chelsea. When we decided to come here no-one put a gun to our head and said, “You need to sign here”. When we decided to come it’s because we accepted that it’s Chelsea and it’s going to be the pressure to play for a team with an amazing history of winning, and of course a project that looks different to others.’

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