LONDON – Mauricio Pochettino has hit back at what he feels is unfair and annoying criticism of Chelsea after his side were labelled “billion-pound bottle jobs” by Gary Neville.

The Blues were given the undesirable label by the former Manchester United defender after the 1-0 extra-time defeat by Liverpool in the League Cup final on Feb 25.

Neville, working as a commentator for Sky Sports, was scathing of Chelsea’s lethargic performance in the extra period at Wembley as an inexperienced Reds line-up extended the Blues’ wait for their first domestic trophy since 2018.

“In extra time, it’s been (Jurgen) Klopp’s kids against the blue, billion-pound bottle jobs,” he said.

“For Chelsea, I have no sympathy for them whatsoever. Mauricio Pochettino’s players have shrunk. They have shrunk right in front of our eyes and in front of their fans.”

Despite spending over £1 billion (S$1.7 billion) on signings since Toddy Boehly’s consortium bought Chelsea in 2022, the west London club have gone backwards over the last two seasons.

But Pochettino refused to accept Neville’s swipe, telling reporters on Feb 27: “The problem is so annoying when after eight months always people talk about one billion.

“I feel that’s a little bit unfair. The new owners arrived with the right intention and they want to build something that is different from the past.

“For me the players have an amazing quality, they only need time. It’s not an excuse for me because if I am here or not, it’s not dependent on me. I think we are doing an amazing job.”

Chelsea are languishing in 11th place in the English Premier League, facing a tough task to qualify for European football and have been booed off by their frustrated fans several times this season.

The Blues have been known for their revolving door policy in the past, with managers swiftly being sacked after failing to win silverware.

Boehly has already sacked Thomas Tuchel and Graham Potter during his short reign and Pochettino is under pressure, especially if Chelsea do not win their FA Cup fifth-round home clash against Leeds United on Feb 28.

That match kicked off after press time.

Adamant Chelsea will get it right in time, Pochettino added: “We cannot see maybe great results (now). But I think with time we are going to have an amazing team.

“We are young, we are learning. People that work here for many years say they start to feel in a different way how the club is. But unfortunately we cannot relate in points. Always this type of process needs time.”

Asked if he expects the club’s ownership to remain patient, he replied: “Why not? I am confident until they tell me something.

“I feel the support from them. When I go up (to receive his runners-up medal at Wembley), I was so upset, nearly crying when I arrived there.

“And then Todd sent a very, very nice text to me, and then I met (co-owner) Behdad (Eghbali) and he was really good.” AFP, REUTERS

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