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No ‘charity’ as injured stars near first-team action – Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino warned Premier League football is “not a charity” amid pressure to name summer signings Christopher Nkunku and Romeo Lavia in his starting line-up following injury.

Belgium international Lavia, who joined from Southampton in August in a £58million deal, is yet to make his debut for the club while ex-RB Leipzig forward Nkunku was made to wait until the final 20 minutes of Tuesday’s Carabao Cup win over Newcastle for his bow following knee surgery.

He had previously been an unused substitute during last week’s 2-0 win against Sheffield United.

Pochettino confirmed Lavia could be included in the squad for the first time when Chelsea visit Wolves on Christmas Eve but said Nkunku – who scored in the penalty shoot-out victory against Eddie Howe’s side and drew a wave of excitement from around Stamford Bridge when he was introduced – is still some way from being fit to play from the start.

Neither player has featured in a league game this season and despite a lengthy injury list that could see as many as eight first-team players unavailable for the trip to Molineux, the manager said there are more factors for him to consider than simply fitness.

“All players after a big period out, they are desperate to be involved,” he said. “They can be involved, but at which level? It’s easy to say ‘I want to play’ but we are competing, and it’s serious the competition.

“After six months, like Nkunku and like Lavia, they need to understand that to be involved they need to train really, really hard every day. They need to make an impact every time they go on the pitch. It’s not like we are playing pre-season games.

“The player needs to understand that it’s not a charity thing, we’re not playing for a joke. We need to win. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to understand the environment of the players.

“People are disappointed because Nkunku didn’t play against Sheffield United. I am disappointed to have a player that I wish would be an important player for us but cannot help the team.

“If he didn’t play, it’s not because we didn’t believe in him or Lavia, it’s because there are players that have been fit and training for six months who are more ready to make an impact than these guys.

“It’s about the moment, today. Who is ready to compete and provide the things we expect?

“It annoys me sometimes. People around the player complain. Come on. The club is disappointed that it’s invested in (players) to perform and to score goals. To get the right balance in this business is important.”

Pochettino confirmed Reece James will be out for “several weeks”, likely stretching to months, after undergoing surgery on a hamstring injury this week, while Enzo Fernandez will be assessed ahead of Wolves after being withdrawn through illness on Tuesday.

The manager gave his backing to Chelsea’s statement on Thursday that the club does not intend to sign up to a revived incarnation of the proposed European Super League, after UEFA’s threat to sanction clubs who took part was ruled unlawful.

“My thoughts are the same as the club statement,” he said. “I support the decision of the club. Fully committed with the club and Chelsea.

“I was listening yesterday and today to the radio in Spain for the explanation. It’s difficult to see how it’s going to happen.”

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