Mauricio Pochettino praised the performances of the players given their full Chelsea debuts in the narrow Carabao Cup win over AFC Wimbledon, but would not be drawn on reports that the club are on the brink of signing Manchester City’s Cole Palmer.
It took a first Chelsea goal from Enzo Fernandez in the second half to finally see off the challenge of the League Two side and seal a 2-1 victory, after Noni Madueke had equalised from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time.
Earlier, James Tilley’s penalty had given Johnnie Jackson’s side a shock lead after goalkeeper Robert Sanchez raced from his goal and collided with Harry Pell.
The young trio of Mason Burstow, Ian Maatsen and Diego Moreira all started for the first time in an unfamiliar Chelsea line-up, but it took the introduction of Nicolas Jackson and Fernandez for the hosts to finally settle the tie, with a noticeable difference in the manner of their threat once the pair were brought on in the second half.
Jackson provided the kind of incisive running between the lines that had been missing in the first half, whilst it was a first goal in blue for World Cup-winner Fernandez that finally broke Wimbledon’s resolve 18 minutes from time.
Madueke, Chelsea’s best player in the first period before Pochettino turned to his bench, levelled from 12 yards after he had been tripped in the box by defender Alex Pearce.
Pochettino was asked afterwards about the impending arrival of Palmer, with Chelsea and City reportedly having agreed a £40million fee for the forward, but he refused to comment, preferring instead to praise his team’s progression to the third round.
“I don’t know anything at the moment,” he said. “I cannot talk about players that don’t belong to us. What I can say is nothing at the moment. The club didn’t tell me. I don’t want to talk about a player that has still not signed.
“Maybe yes, maybe no (there will be more transfer business). Maybe you know better than me what is going on.”
Of the performance against the Dons, he added: “It was tough. That’s the beauty of the competition, of the cups. I think for the circumstances we have in the squad at the moment, many players that were involved today, I’m happy with the performance. Many players that made their debut here and it’s tough first time.
“Many positive things. Of course, we have a squad and players that were rested and were on the bench in case we needed. They were fresh to go into the game and of course to help the team achieve what we wanted.
“That’s the beauty of the competition for any club, (when you’re) a Premier League club it’s always difficult to play a team like this, that belongs to this level in League Two. Always the motivation and the desire. It wasn’t a penalty for me, (but) that is the beauty of the competition, these things can happen.”
The manager added that Marc Cucurella, who played 90 minutes at left-back despite reports that the club are in negotiations over a sale to Manchester United, remains a part of his plans until the club informs him otherwise.
“I don’t know anything (about Cucurella). All the players that are involved every day on the training ground with us are in our plans. Then, things happen, it’s the decision of both the club and the player, and if something happens in the next few days, we will communicate to you.”
AFC Wimbledon boss Jackson reflected on a brave performance for his side and took pride in having forced Pochettino to turn to his expensively-assembled bench to seal the win.
“So proud of my players,” said Jackson. “We pushed them all the way, gave them a proper game. We’ve said all week that we weren’t just coming for a day out, we wanted to go toe-to-toe with them. A bit gutted we haven’t pushed them all the way to penalties, but I have to be proud of everyone.
“We knew they were on the bench and to be honest I think their manager was hoping he doesn’t have to use them, so I think it’s testament to my team that we got them to a position in the game where he’s had to make those changes, bringing two hundred million pound players (Fernandez and Moises Caicedo) onto the pitch.”