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Mauricio Pochettino gives Christopher Nkunku positional hint before Newcastle with injury update

Mauricio Pochettino gives Christopher Nkunku positional hint before Newcastle with injury update

Mauricio Pochettino has opened up on where Christopher Nkunku will play for Chelsea when finally fit. The Frenchman is still recovering from an injury that has seen him miss the entirety of the league season so far after going down with a damaging blow to his knee in the final game of the tour of America earlier this year.

It has left Pochettino without someone that many had expected to be central to their attacking plans and his absence seemed to initially stump the manager. Chelsea chopped and changed their options, picking up other knocks to their forwards before finally settling down once Cole Palmer was given the chance to start games.

With eight goals in the past two matches and already firing in four in a game on three seperate occasions since the start of October, there is now hope that Nkunku can take things to another level. Although the 26-year-old will not be in the team to play Newcastle on Saturday he is closer than ever to a competitive debut.

“Last week, in few training sessions, still he’s not fully recovered to be part of the tactical sessions,” Pochettino said of his star man. “Now is about recovery. He is a player, a fantastic player that was top scorer in the Bundesliga and he can play in different positions. His quality is amazing.

“Really bad luck to lose him for the beginning of the season and to have the possibility for him to help the team. We are going to find the best way for him to fit with the team.”

There had been hope that he would be able to come back in time to feature in some form at St James’ Park but with a plagued injury record over the past two years both Nkunku and Chelsea are keen not to have any more issues. The Blues themselves have had numerous cases of players coming back too soon before picking up a rebound knock. Nkunku himself suffered medium-to-long-term problems this time 12 months ago.

“Now he’s going to find massive competition because all of the teammates are ahead of him because in the last four months they were competing and he needs to build his form and best level,” his manager added. Now the debates over where he will start can really ramp up.

Pochettino has settled in recent weeks on a 4-3-3 shape on paper but with Conor Gallagher acting as the first line of a 4-4-2 when out of possession and pressing. On the ball and it is the 23-year-old that takes up the space in the No.10 areas, attempting to crash from deep like he did so well at Crystal Palace.

With Carney Chukwuemeka also injured and Palmer solidifying the fight flank as his own there has been no need for a makeshift shadow striker, though Enzo Fernandez was used ineffectively out of position in the early weeks of the season. Mykhailo Mudryk had made the left side his but injuries and the recent form of Raheem Sterling have seen things shift once again.

For the past two matches it has been Palmer on the right with Sterling left and Nicolas Jackson as the striker. Any space behind the front man has been taken by Palmer drifting in – Reece James or whoever the right-back is bombing forward – and Gallagher arriving

With Nkunku’s return, which now appears to be just weeks away, something will have to give. Pochettino had used him across the frontline in pre-season, operating as a striker instead of Jackson, briefly alongside him but mainly from the left and with a free role.

This, in theory, could work brilliantly with both him and Palmer cutting inside onto their stronger feet whilst attacking full-backs – especially when Marc Cucurella plays or Ben Chilwell is fit – overlap. With Gallagher, Moises Caicedo and Enzo Fernandez as cover there is still a strong base but it means that Sterling would miss out.

The Englishman has been tremendous for large parts of this season but didn’t feature too prominently in pre-season. How the balance is found by Pochettino looks set to be one of the defining features of just how well his first term in charge goes but as with most things Nkunku, he is keeping the options open.

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