Mauricio Pochettino warned his Chelsea players they must be “clever” in playing without VAR when they meet Middlesbrough in Tuesday’s Carabao Cup semi-final first leg at the Riverside.
Stadiums outside of the Premier League are typically not fitted with the technology required for the video assistant referee and so Pochettino’s side will take on Championship Boro with only the on-field officials in place.
Chelsea took part in perhaps VAR’s most controversial fixture this season when they won 4-1 at Tottenham in November, a game that featured nine video interventions including five disallowed goals and two red cards shown to Spurs players.
There were a total of 21 minutes of time added on, despite the ball only actually being in play for 43 per cent of the match.
It will be a different proposition for the team on Teesside. Chelsea have the youngest squad in the league this season with an average age of just over 23, many of whom turned professional around the time of the widespread implementation of VAR by Europe’s top-flight leagues in 2018.
Pochettino said his players must prepare to be cautious in the face of unfamiliar circumstances.
“There’s no VAR,” he said. “That is a thing we need to be careful of. Our normal attitude is to play with VAR. We need to be cautious of that.
“We need to be in a different way in our approach. We need to change. Now, it’s just the referee that is going to decide, we need to be cautious.
“It’s a different game whether you play with or without VAR. I don’t say it’s better or worse, but it’s a different game. We need to be clever in this way.”
Chelsea are looking to put one foot into their first major final since they won the World Club Cup in 2021, months after lifting the Champions League trophy in Porto.
They face a Boro side – managed by former Manchester United and England midfielder Michael Carrick – currently 12th in the Championship, having lost 1-0 at home to Aston Villa in the FA Cup on Saturday.
“To spend all our energy (on Tuesday) is the most important thing,” said Pochettino.
“Not to go there and think ‘OK, we have the second leg after to play just in case (we lose)’.
“No, (Tuesday) is the most important game and we need to come back afterwards with a victory and to finish at Stamford Bridge.
“It’s going to be tough. The game against Aston Villa, they lost but they could have won. It’s a good team with great ideas. It’s true they’ve changed their system.
“They played the season in a 4-2-3-1. We know they can use this or a different system. They have good players, a good coach. It’s going to be tough.”
Pochettino will be without Christopher Nkunku – who is out with a hip injury – and Nicolas Jackson, away representing Senegal at the Africa Cup of Nations, meaning another start is likely for Armando Broja after his goal in the 4-0 cup win over Preston on Saturday.