Soccer-Lack of European football good for injury-hit Chelsea says Pochettino

LONDON (Reuters) – The absence of European football will help Chelsea cope with their long list of injuries, Mauricio Pochettino said on Friday, but the Argentine manager added he was confident the Premier League club will return to continental competition next season.

Chelsea, the 2021 Champions League winners, endured a turbulent campaign last season and finished 12th in the table, meaning they will not be involved in European competition this term, the group stages of which begin next week.

The London club have been hit with several injury problems early in the new season, with full back and captain Reece James, new striker Christopher Nkunku and central defenders Wesley Fofana and Benoit Badiashile among the key players sidelined.

“With the circumstances, I think it’s better for us (to not be playing European football) because we have 11 or 12 injured players,” Pochettino told reporters ahead of Sunday’s trip to Bournemouth.

“I think it’s important now that we can recover and be more competitive.

“But for Chelsea it’s important to be involved in European competition, but that is not in my hands now. That is the reality. For sure, we are going to be involved in European competition next season, no doubt with the quality we have.”

Chelsea are again 12th in the standings after picking up just four points from four games but, despite their defeats at West Ham United and home to Nottingham Forest, Pochettino said his side had performed well.

“If you see the data, I think we are very good. The thing we are missing is to score goals, which is one of the most important things in football,” he added.

“We need to compete better. It’s the process of building the team. For sure it’s only a matter of time. I want to win. We need to win. It’s too early to give up or say we are not going to achieve what we were talking about at the beginning.”

Earlier on Friday, Chelsea said midfielder Romeo Lavia, who was signed from Championship (second-tier) side Southampton for a reported fee of 55 million pounds ($68.18 million) last month, is “continuing to be assessed for an injury”.

“I think we are really disappointed because he was training really well. He twisted his ankle and now we are waiting for Monday to get the assessment from the doctor,” Pochettino said.

“We don’t know (the timeframe for Lavia’s return) because we need to assess him.”

Pochettino added that striker Armando Broja, who suffered a knee injury in December, will also be unavailable to face Bournemouth as he continues his return to fitness after surgery.

($1 = 0.8066 pounds)

(Reporting by Aadi Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)