FA Cup can help Pochettino and Chelsea sway 'bottle-job' tag

Was the result more important than the performance for Chelsea? (0:39)

Kieran Gibbs believes that Chelsea should only be focused on the winning result against Leeds United in the FA Cup tonight. (0:39)

LONDON, England -- The FA Cup is beginning to look like a possible route to salvation for Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino. Wednesday's 3-2 win over EFL Championship high-fliers Leeds United came courtesy of the sort of disjointed performance which has put Pochettino's position under the microscope in recent weeks, but reaching the quarter-finals gives him more time to work on those palpable flaws.

Just where would he be without Conor Gallagher? Only Cole Palmer has been more influential than the midfielder who, truth be told, many expected to be marginalised given the summer spend on Moisés Caicedo and Romeo Lavia, but he netted a 91st-minute winner at Stamford Bridge to secure what could be a priceless win for his manager.

Of course, the presence of Manchester City, Liverpool -- and to a lesser extent Newcastle and Manchester United -- mean the Blues are hardly favourites to win the world's oldest club cup competition from here. But they now face another Championship side, leaders Leicester City, at home in the last eight while United face Liverpool and City host Newcastle. And as they proved at Wembley last weekend despite losing the Carabao Cup final to Liverpool, they are a match for anyone in a one-off fixture.

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Pochettino labelled it "unfair" on the eve of this game but Sky Sports' pundit Gary Neville's description of Chelsea as "billion-pound bottle-jobs" after losing to Liverpool inevitably came to mind as they fell 1-0 down and were then pegged back to 2-2 by Leeds, labouring badly following the visitors' second equaliser.

Pochettino has spoken twice already in direct response to Neville's comment and when allowed a third time -- after his team showed not a degree of character to recover from 1-0 down and 2-2 -- his answer revealed a frustration that it has already become a moniker which is hard to shake.

"It's like Gary, my friend, what did you do?" said Pochettino. "His opinion now is like always around and around and around, come on! We can't agree about that. "With all my love to Gary, it's not fair to use this type of words about a team that is so brave and a club that always fights for big things.

"What can we do? Now only with this type of performance, we can only show that we are brave and can win games. Nothing to say, only to keep moving. It's not important for the team, not important for us, because we know how we are and how we behave. And why we lost the game against Liverpool is nothing to do with this.

"It's different things. You need to accept all opinions. But that's not for us. We know we're brave, we're working really hard. If people want to go around and around and around with this comment, for us it's not an important comment. It's sorry, you were wrong but nothing to say. Respect your opinion and move on."

But more immediately, Pochettino could ill afford two cup failures in the space of four days, especially had the surrender to Jurgen Klopp's young side followed a home exit to second-tier opposition making five changes from their previous Championship game. Chelsea rotated themselves, as has long been in vogue in this competition, but their five chances came also with a degree of inevitability created by Sunday's draining encounter.

And for a while, it looked as though two of the Blues' more maligned signings would pen their own redemption story after Chelsea fell behind to the sort of unforced defensive errors that have undermined their entire campaign to date. Robert Sánchez played a short pass to Axel Disasi, who underhit a forward ball to Caicedo. Jaidon Anthony pounced and found Mateo Joseph to fire the visitors into an eighth-minute lead.

Nicolas Jackson equalised on 15 minutes to cap a fine team move with a low finish which Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier could have done better with before Mykhailo Mudryk swept home a second in the 37th-minute from Raheem Sterling's cutback. Jackson and Mudryk have been poster boys for Chelsea's attacking travails but just as it appeared both were taking centre stage in a notable step forward, the Blues were pegged back again as Joseph planted a 59th-minute header past Sanchez from Anthony's excellent cross.

Uncertainty spread like wildfire as Chelsea gave the ball away too often as tension and tiredness seemed to creep into their legs. So much so, that Gallagher's stoppage-time intervention essentially came against the run of play. Enzo Fernández fed the England international, who manoeuvred himself smartly into position in the box to steer a shot past Meslier for his first goal at home in 319 days.

Gallagher is at the centre of something akin to an existential issue for Chelsea. The 24-year-old will have a year left on his contract this summer and his status as a homegrown product means any transfer fee would be banked as pure profit, something which could become vital as the Blues battle to comply with Financial Fair Play regulations.

In a worst-case scenario, they might not be able to afford to keep him but can Pochettino afford to lose him? "Of course, he is an important player, [there] is no doubt," said Pochettino. "We were talking from the beginning of the season that the contribution is fantastic for the team. So happy for him. The effort and the quality is there."

Gallagher's spirit and hunger is the opposite of a "bottlejob." That label will only stick if Chelsea fall short in the months ahead. They have to improve on their current 11th-place position in the Premier League and book a place in the Europa Conference League at worst to salvage a tumultuous campaign.

Winning a trophy would certainly help redefine Pochettino and his team in a more positive light, and for the time being, that possibility is still very much alive.