Moises Caicedo was surprisingly left out of Chelsea’s starting lineup in Saturday’s 4-1 defeat to Newcastle. The 22-year-old was benched despite playing in every minute of every Premier League game in November.
Mauricio Pochettino gave Lesley Ugochukwu the nod in midfield, but he revealed the decision was only to protect Caicedo. The Chelsea manager told reporters: “Yes, it is true that with Moises Caicedo we need to manage his minutes carefully.
“He only arrived back with us (on Thursday) from international duty with Ecuador and had one training session, so we felt it was best we avoid any problems with so many games ahead.
“This is why we have a big squad, so we can use the players. We do not want to force players when they’re not in complete perfect condition, so Moises not starting is to avoid any risk.”
Ugochukwu replacing Caicedo didn’t pay off
It was a gamble from Pochettino, as Ugochukwu had amassed only 140 minutes of top-flight football before the Newcastle defeat. He was highly-rated upon his move from Stade Rennais, but Ugochukwu is still young and inexperienced in a new league.
Ugochukwu had made 11 appearances across the board for Chelsea, started only one league game before Saturday. The French U21 international played only 11 minutes of top-flight football since early-October, so he was short of match fitness.
Ugochukwu lasted 69 minutes against Newcastle before being replaced. Caicedo was summoned from the bench, but Chelsea were 3-1 down at the time, so he couldn’t inspire a comeback. Instead, the Blues would ship a fourth goal late on.
Ugochukwu unlikely to keep place in next game
Caicedo has made 14 appearances in all competitions since joining from Brighton & Hove Albion over the summer. The 22-year-old is one of the best ball-winners in the league, so Chelsea missed him against Newcastle. He should be fit enough to start their next game at Ugochukwu’s expense.
Pochettino has a responsibility to protect his squad with Chelsea suffering a major injury crisis earlier in the campaign. Players into double figures were sidelined months ago, and it’s resulted in a mixed start to the season. The decision made sense, but Pochettino was asking a lot of Ugochukwu.
Chelsea next face Brighton on Sunday, December 3, so Caicedo should line up against his former side, fitness permitting. The 22-year-old played every minute of their win over Tottenham and draw with Manchester City, so he’s a good omen.