Mauricio Pochettino’s first great trick? To unlock world-class player trapped inside Mykhailo Mudryk

Mykhailo Mudryk - Mauricio Pochettino’s first trick at Chelsea? To unlock world-class player inside Mykhailo Mudryk

Mykhailo Mudryk with fans after Chelsea’s 4-3 friendly win over Brighton in Philadelphia – Getty Images/Tim Nwachukwu

It will take much more than one encouraging performance in pre-season for Mykhailo Mudryk to answer the many questions that are being asked of him, but his showing against Brighton this weekend was at least – and at last – a step in the right direction.

Now is the time for renewed optimism at every club and, for Chelsea, there is hope that a new coach in the dugout will lead to a new Mudryk on the pitch. Few players underperformed as obviously as the Ukrainian last season, which means that few players have as much room for immediate growth this time around.

Can Mauricio Pochettino help Mudryk to fulfil his potential? These are the earliest of early days (Mudryk has so far played only 45 minutes in a blue shirt under Pochettino’s watch) yet there is reason to believe something is stirring. Against Brighton in Philadelphia, he electrified the American crowd more than any other player.

Mudryk’s goal, in which he surged inside from the left wing before smashing a bouncing ball towards goal, was the most eye-catching aspect of his performance. But it was also his speed, especially from a standing start, that stood out. His pace is his greatest strength yet, last season, he barely used it. His supporters would say that he was not playing in a system or structure that allowed him to.

Mykhailo Mudryk celebrates his goal against Brighton - Mauricio Pochettino’s first trick at Chelsea? To unlock world-class player inside Mykhailo Mudryk

Mudryk celebrates his goal against Brighton – Getty Images/Adam Hunger

Was his performance against Brighton an example of what he can do? “It is not all my potential,” Mudryk said after the game. “It is only 20 per cent.”

Time will tell whether he is proved right on that front, but what is certain is that Mudryk is coming into this season in a far better place than he was in January, following his £89 million move from Shakhtar Donetsk. When he first arrived at Chelsea, he had not played for two months. He walked into a club in turmoil, with too many players in the squad and not enough points on the table.

Now, however, the mood is different and Mudryk looks ready to compete. He played for Ukraine’s under-21 side at the recent European Championship in a bid to recapture his form, and it seems that he has already impressed Pochettino in the last few weeks. Mudryk and his new head coach exchanged messages over the summer before meeting in person, and Pochettino is clearly keen to create a personal bond with his winger.

“We spoke in the last few days and I have found a really good kid,” said Pochettino last week. “He is still young, with massive potential. The most important thing is that we need to earn the trust and confidence in us. We are building the relationship with him and with different players. They need to know us and how we act in every situation. We have had many chats and I am happy about that.”

Mauricio Pochettino before Chelsea's friendly against Brighton in Philadelphia - Mauricio Pochettino’s first trick at Chelsea? To unlock world-class player inside Mykhailo Mudryk

Mauricio Pochettino will work to build trust between Mudryk and himself and his coaching team – Getty Images/Tim Nwachukwu

For Mudryk’s goal, he twice exchanged quick passes with new striker Nicolas Jackson. The arrival of a genuine centre-forward means that Mudryk will have a reference point in attack and a team-mate to work off. He did not have that last season, when Chelsea usually played without a recognised No 9 in the team.

Mudryk is still getting to grips with English and, for now, he is not a man of many words. He did make it clear, though, that he has been reflecting and analysing his struggles in a Chelsea shirt. Asked how to describe his time at the club so far, he said: “Learning period.” Asked what he has learned the most over these challenging months, he replied: “Patience.”

Mudryk also said that working under Pochettino is “enjoyable” and the 22-year-old has every reason to believe that he can thrive under his new manager. Pochettino’s track record with young players is hugely impressive and, if he can do with Mudryk what he managed with the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli at Tottenham Hotspur, he will have a formidable attacking weapon at his disposal.

It should not be forgotten that both Brentford and Arsenal – two of the Premier League’s best recruiters in recent years – wanted to smash their transfer records to sign Mudryk, before Chelsea swooped in the winter window. Roberto De Zerbi, Brighton’s head coach and Mudryk’s former manager, has said that the winger has the potential to win the Ballon d’Or.

They cannot all be wrong, and there can be no questioning that Mudryk is an exceptional talent. The task for Pochettino is to unleash that talent, through individual coaching and collective team-building, and to allow Mudryk to show he was worth all that money and hype. So far, so good.

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