Mauricio Pochettino pledged to keep open a path to the Chelsea first team for academy graduates who prove themselves good enough.

The manager has given debuts this season to six players aged 20 and under, including defender Levi Colwill who has become an England international after featuring in all but one of Pochettino’s games in charge at Stamford Bridge.

Alex Matos, the 19-year-old forward signed from Norwich in the summer, was an unused substitute during Saturday’s 2-0 win against Sheffield United having made his Premier League debut in October against Fulham.

There have also been Chelsea bows for academy graduate Bashir Humphreys, 20, the 18-year-old Brazilian striker Deivid Washington, 19-year-old defender Diego Moreira and Mason Burstow, the 20-year-old forward signed from Charlton in 2022.

With a long injury list that continues to limit Pochettino’s options, the depth of the first-team squad has been tested despite a colossal £1billion outlay on recruitment during the last 18 months.

The manager singled out Matos in particular for praise, and emphasised the need to keep young players at the club believing that their path to the senior team will not be blocked by established signings.

“His (Matos) personality, his character is always so focused,” said Pochettino. “Of course he’s talented with potential. He’s really impressed me with his focus in everything. He’s so smart, watching always everything, always smiling.

“To compete with the first-team players is tough. But he’s really competitive, he’s really strong. He’ll kick you and smile at you.

“It’s nice to have this type of profile. I’m happy with him. There’s some massive talent in the academy in all the different teams.

“After four, five months we’ve had possibility to assess them all, and I think we have many young, talented players that, with time and given the possibility, can reach the level of Chelsea.”

Pochettino’s side host Newcastle in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday as the club hunts a first trophy since winning the Champions League in 2021 under former boss Thomas Tuchel.

The manager, who is himself yet to win silverware during his time in England having lost the final of this competition to Chelsea in 2015 when he was Tottenham boss, emphasised the importance of the game and intimated there would not be wholesale changes from the win against the Blades.

Nevertheless, youth development remains a pillar of his philosophy as he continues his rebuild of the west London side.

“The challenge is also to improve the young players that have arrived, like Romeo Lavia or Deivid Washington,” he said. “But also the players coming through the academy, we care a lot about that. We love the work that they are doing there in the academy.

“The talent is there, now we need to create the capacity. They need to believe that they can reach the first team. It’s not only about signing young players. It’s about academy players having the opportunity if they deserve to be involved.”