Mauricio Pochettino said Chelsea could have Christopher Nkunku available as early as the week after the November international break as the summer signing’s recovery from a knee injury is progressing quicker than expected.
The 25-year-old, who was injured in a friendly against Borussia Dortmund during the club’s pre-season tour of the United States, had been expected to be out until at least December but that timescale has now been brought forward, raising the possibility he could make a long-awaited competitive debut when the team face Newcastle at St James’s Park on November 25.
The loss of Nkunku weeks after completing a £52million move from RB Leipzig was a significant blow to Pochettino’s preparations for the new campaign, particularly as he had been a standout performer during the two weeks in the US.
And his absence was keenly felt once the Premier League season began as Chelsea scored just five times in their first six league matches, a run that saw them fail to score a single goal during September.
That record has improved markedly during the last three games during which the team has more than doubled its goal return, but the possible early return for the France international – who was last season’s joint top scorer in the Bundesliga with 16 goals – would represent a boost for Pochettino as he faces a torrid upcoming run of fixtures.
After Saturday lunchtime’s meeting with Brentford at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea face consecutive league matches against Tottenham, Manchester City, Newcastle, Brighton and Manchester United.
Nkunku in Blue. pic.twitter.com/0bcEh7wGZy
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) June 23, 2023
“(Nkunku) is doing really well, working hard, I think he’s really close,” said Pochettino. “As soon as possible we can have him involved again.
“After the next internationals maybe he could be involved.
“He’s a player that when you see the goals he scored last season, (you see) he provides goals, and I think we’re missing goals. That’s why we think he’s a player that can be important for us.
“He’s proved he can score goals in the Bundesliga. If today we had eight or 10 goals from Nkunku, maybe the situation (in the league) would be completely different.
“It’s goals that we are missing to be in a different position. It’s unlucky but we can’t complain, we need to work. We’re looking forward to recovering him and helping the team be in a different position.”
Pochettino previously said that he could be tempted to look at options in the transfer market if form in front of goal did not improve by January, but acknowledged a run of eight goals in three league games coupled with Nkunku’s progress could lessen the urgency.
“Football is really dynamic,” he said. “Today maybe we are thinking in a different way to three weeks ago, but we’re ready and working with the sporting directors to be ready in the transfer window, if we need to add players in an offensive position.”
The Premier League confirmed on Thursday that Chelsea will take part in the competition’s first Christmas Eve fixture since 1995 with their visit to Wolves moved from December 23 to accommodate TV coverage.
Fixture amendments and matches selected for live TV broadcast in the UK (5 Dec – 22 Jan) are confirmed
— Premier League (@premierleague) October 26, 2023
The decision has drawn significant backlash from supporters, but it is particularly resonant for the Pochettino household as the previous day marks his and his wife’s 31st anniversary – which the manager will now spend travelling to Wolverhampton.
“Our fans are not happy? Me neither. The 23rd is my anniversary with my wife and now I need to travel to Wolves.
“I believe I am not going to convince her to come.
“The 24th (of December) for Argentine people is a really important night, and I hope to arrive (home) in time to celebrate after. But if our fans are not happy, I am not happy also.
“(The decision) is not easy to change, but we need to accept we are in England and it’s different to the rest of the world. I need to adapt myself. But even if I’m not happy, I need to do my best to be at my best level and accept it’s a situation we cannot change.”