Mauricio Pochettino praised Chelsea’s response to back-to-back Premier League defeats as they recovered to beat Sheffield United 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.
The hosts fought back from a dour first-half showing – and off the back of losses to Manchester United and Everton – to hit two quick-fire goals in the second period through Nicolas Jackson and the influential Cole Palmer.
The first was well worked between Palmer and Raheem Sterling, the summer signing from Manchester City working the ball wide and continuing his run into the box to tap home Sterling’s low cross.
And Palmer was the architect minutes later as Jackson made it two, lifting the ball into the box for Sterling and Conor Gallagher to attack, and as it was spilled by Blades goalkeeper Wes Foderingham, Palmer was there to knock it back to Jackson for 2-0.
It had been a maddening first half for home supporters to endure, with a single effort on target to show from their side despite racking up 80 per cent possession against the league’s bottom club.
It took Palmer’s intervention after 54 minutes, playing a clever ball to Sterling who shot past his man with a burst of acceleration, starting and finishing the move that finally broke the Blades down after a turgid opening.
His creative involvement for the second was a further reminder of the 21-year-old’s capacity to turn a game single-handedly as yet another scoreless outing loomed for Pochettino’s side.
Afterwards the manager pointed to a change of position in the second half – swapping with Sterling to take up a more central role – as the key.
“I think we talked a lot during the week after Everton about needing drastic change,” said Pochettino. “It was important to confirm that we are in a good way. The team in the first half was frustrated because we couldn’t find a way past the low block of Sheffield United.
“We didn’t show the capacity to be flexible and it was easy for them to identify our position and to block us and make us put the ball in positions that were easy for them to stop.
“The second half we were much better, we fixed things. The team started to find better possibilities to play, to link much better. Cole from the right, going into the space, started to link better with team-mates and be the player that we want to use – a playmaker.”
Pochettino left midfielder Enzo Fernandez on the bench, with Gallagher instead taking up a position in central midfield alongside Moises Caicedo.
The manager confirmed the World Cup-winner is likely to return for Tuesday’s Carabao Cup quarter-final at home to Newcastle.
“You only can play 11,” he said. “It’s a big competition, sometimes you need one profile or another and you choose the players. The combination between Caicedo and Gallagher, using Cole like a number 10, that was the possibility for the best combination for today.
“I’m happy because three points are important and Tuesday we have an important game against Newcastle. To arrive in that game with a good feeling is really important, to have the confidence that we can go through.”
Blades boss Chris Wilder reflected on a game in which his players gave travelling supporters much to be proud of.
“I don’t like when one player goes off to clap supporters on their own, if we’re going to do it we go together,” he said.
“That’s important to me and it was important that they quickly got that message because for a big period, we were in the game and we were fighting our way against an outstanding manager and some top individuals.”