Mauricio Pochettino has warned his Chelsea players that Premier League football is “not a charity” and they cannot expect to come straight back into the team after injury.
The London club have been hit hard by absences this season and are languishing in 10th place in the Premier League ahead of Sunday’s match at Wolves.
Belgium international Romeo Lavia, who joined from Southampton in August in a £58 million ($74 million) deal, is yet to make his debut for the club while France forward Christopher Nkunku made his bow as a substitute in Tuesday’s League Cup win over Newcastle following knee surgery.
Chelsea manager Pochettino confirmed Lavia, 19, could be included in the squad at Molineux but added the 26-year-old Nkunku, who scored in the penalty shootout victory against Eddie Howe’s side, was still short of full fitness.
“All players after a big period out, they are desperate to be involved,” Pochettino said Friday. “They can be involved, but at which level? It’s easy to say ‘I want to play’ but we are competing, and it’s serious, the competition.
“After six months, like Nkunku and like Lavia, they need to understand that to be involved they need to train really, really hard every day. They need to make an impact every time they go on the pitch. It’s not like we are playing pre-season games.
“The player needs to understand that it’s not a charity thing, we’re not playing for a joke. We need to win. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to understand the environment of the players.”
Pochettino explained if Nkunku did not play against Sheffield United last week, when he was an unused substitute, it was “not because we didn’t believe in him or Lavia”.
“It’s because there are players that have been fit and training for six months who are more ready to make an impact than these guys,” he added.
“It’s about the moment, today. Who is ready to compete and provide the things we expect?
“It annoys me sometimes. People around the player complain. Come on. The club is disappointed that it’s invested in (players) to perform and to score goals. To get the right balance in this business is important.”
Pochettino confirmed captain Reece James would be out for “several weeks”, likely stretching to months, after undergoing surgery on a hamstring injury.
He also gave his backing to Chelsea’s refusal to have anything to do with a revived European Super League.
The Blues were one of six Premier League clubs signed up to a breakaway league in 2021, though the project quickly collapsed.
“My thoughts are the same as the club statement,” Pochettino said. “I support the decision of the club.”