Will Pochettino Face the Sack if Chelsea Fail to Win the FA Cup?

If Mauricio Pochettino is to salvage something from his first season in charge at Stamford Bridge, his only option left is to win the FA Cup. The League Cup runners-up were not involved in a European competition this year and have zero hope of a late title charge, even if they were to win all their remaining games.

For a side that has spent as much money as Chelsea over the past couple of years, a mid-table finish and one domestic trophy does not represent a particularly successful year. It could be enough, however, to buy a little more time for Pochettino who cannot be too far away from facing the sack.

The Chelsea hierarchy have been patient with Pochettino so far (patient by Chelsea standards, at least!), but should he face elimination from the FA Cup, could this prove to be the final straw? Let us assess how secure the Argentine’s post is and how dependent he is on a successful FA Cup run.

Current Situation

Mauricio Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino (vverve | Bigstockphoto.com)

At the time of writing in early March 2024, Mauricio Pochettino is not the bookmaker’s favourite as the next manager to face the sack. Leading this race is Vincent Kompany (7/4) followed by ‘No Manager to Leave’ at 4/1. Narrowly behind no more sackings this season is Chris Wilder (9/2) before you reach Erik ten Hag and Pochettino who are both available at 5/1.

The odds suggest that the Argentine is not hanging by a thread, but they do indicate he is not enjoying much in the way of job security, which comes as no surprise. There are two things the Argentine can do to help boost his prospects of staying in west London though, one is to end the Premier League season strongly.

Position Team Games Played Points
6th Man Utd 27 44
7th West Ham 27 42
8th Newcastle 27 40
9th Brighton 27 39
10th Wolves 27 38
11th Chelsea 26 36

Given their game in hand, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a good run could see Chelsea finish as high as sixth in the table. This could well be enough for a spot in the Europa League, although we will not know for sure until later in the season. Even a seventh or eighth-placed finish though would be a substantial improvement on last year’s effort of 12th. Sure, it is still far below initial expectations but if you were being kind, you could argue it is at least a step in the right direction.

There is an acknowledgement that Chelsea do have an extremely young squad (the youngest in the league by 1.6 years) and subsequently, instant success is not demanded. Pochettino does need to be able to demonstrate progression though. If he does this by moving up to the table to a respectable position, this may spare him even if he faces FA Cup elimination.

Speaking of the FA Cup, Chelsea are into the quarter-finals and have been handed a relatively kind draw – a home clash with second-tier leaders Leicester. The Londoners are the strong favourites to win this clash and doing so would put them just two victories away from lifting a ninth FA Cup title. The Blues are not fancied to go the entire way though, priced at 7/1 by some bookies despite their favourable quarter-final tie.

The reason for this is that the title contenders Man City and Liverpool remain in the competition. There is also Wolves, who have beaten the Blues home and away this year, plus Man United and Newcastle, who can both be a real threat on their day. Some of these mentioned will face elimination in the quarters but the semi-finals will likely feature a strong quartet of clubs.

Is the FA Cup Make or Break for Pochettino?

Mauricio Pochettino
Mauricio Pochettino (sportsphotographer.eu | Bigstockphoto.com)

We can see the argument for Pochettino’s Chelsea career hinging on the outcome of the FA Cup but we don’t think it’s as clear-cut as that for a few reasons.

Lack of Alternatives

Part of the reason why Pochettino has perhaps not been sacked earlier is the lack of tempting alternatives on the market. His current win ratio of 46% is the second lowest of any permanent Chelsea manager since Glenn Hoddle (1993 to 1996), higher only than Graham Potter (39%). He is not a popular figure among the fans and it is not as though his reign began torridly but is now looking much brighter. At the time of writing, the Blues have only collected as many points from their last five league games (seven) as they did the first five.

While the Chelsea board may be fine with showing Pochettino the door, it seems silly to do so with no replacement lined up. Any employed manager, like Ruben Amorim, would be reluctant to leave mid-season, and the Chelsea job is not going to appeal to everyone anyway. The club will be operating under considerable financial restraints due to their recent transfer spending and may have to sell some promising assets just to avoid FFP violations.

Stage of FA Cup Elimination

Normally losing a League Cup final to Liverpool by a single extra-time goal would not attract much criticism. The fact that Chelsea lost to such a depleted Reds side though, one forced to play inexperienced teenagers, reflected very poorly on the ‘Billion Pound Bottlejobs’ as Gary Neville branded them. Being knocked of the FA Cup out to a Championship side (Leicester) would reflect even more poorly. Yes, the Foxes are doing well in the second tier but they are still a lower-division side playing away from home, with bigger priorities to worry about.

If Pochettino were to lose narrowly to a strong Man City side on penalties in the final though, this is a different story. The Argentine could even get a bit of credit for giving such a talented side a real run for their money, rather than facing widespread criticisms and more fan wrath.

League Position

Should Chelsea remain in the FA Cup until the semi-final (22nd/23rd April) or the final (25th May) this would buy Pochettino some potentially valuable time. There is a lot of league action to be played between now and these dates. If radical improvements in league form are witnessed, an FA Cup defeat is unlikely to add the same amount of pressure it otherwise would. While it would be a blow, Pochettino could at least divert attention to something more positive.

Pochettino Will Need a Win

Fingers crossed behind back

A combination of no clear managerial alternatives and a (relatively) patient board should see Mauricio Pochettino survive until the end of the season at least. This may change if the Blues are knocked out by Leicester in the FA Cup or a string of defeats follow in the league, but otherwise, he should just about be safe. Looking further into the future though and Chelsea may well be weighing up for a managerial switch in the summer. To persuade the board otherwise, Pochettino will likely need an FA Cup win and/or a very strong end to the league campaign.