Mykhailo Mudryk’s stunning first international goal for Ukraine against Malta came as no surprise to Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino. Not least because it showcased the two qualities the £88m signing has which mean he intends to persevere with his plan to nurture him into one of the Premier League’s most dangerous attackers.
“Explosiveness” and “directness” are two of the words being bandied about in coaching reports at Cobham this season – and the new Chelsea manager and his staff see it as their mission to help him to eke more and more of that out of his game.
No doubt similar qualities were spotted by Arsenal scouts before the north London club made their own attempt to sign Mudryk from Shakhtar Donetsk. So what better time to bring them to the fore than the visit of the Gunners to Stamford Bridge for their Saturday evening Premier League clash?
Pochettino identified Mudryk as a special project before he even took over the reins after he failed to scale the heights expected in 17 goalless appearances since his arrival in January. In his final 12 games for Shakhtar he had rattled in 10 goals.
It is only now, though, that Mudryk has rediscovered his scoring form. He finally opened his Chelsea account in the 2-0 win against Fulham in the second-to-last match before the international break.
Then on Tuesday in Ta’Qali, he collected the ball out on the touchline by the half-way line, outpaced one defender, cut inside another and beat the goalkeeper with a thunderbolt into the top corner from 25 yards away. Previously, he could not even beat his manager in a friendly game of crossbar challenge!
That revelation from last month from Pochettino suggested that the Chelsea staff had been coming up with special drills and exercises to try to bring the Ukrainian out of his shell. Nothing could be further from the truth as Pochettino has decided to play a more subtle long game.
Mudryk takes part in the same drills as other players, albeit with Pochettino’s team taking a more watchful eye on his progress and engaging with him more than with some of his more confident team-mates.
Pochettino has concluded that Mudryk needs to be strong enough to build his own self-belief and is providing the only real help he can – some rhythm.
Fewer than half of Murdyk’s appearances last season were starts and Pochettino began the campaign with him on the bench also.
That Fulham goal, though, came in his fourth successive start – the first time he has started even back-to-back games since a three-game run immediately after he arrived.
He was subsequently rested for the tough physical trip to Burnley, but with Arsenal defender Oleksandr Zinchenko warning his international team-mate he won’t be able to repeat his Malta goal in tomorrow’s derby, the timing could not be better for Pochettino to resume the confidence-building project and throw him back in again from the start.
Arsenal fans who have taunted every blank since Mudryk spurned them, be warned.