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Chelsea looks to respond to Neville’s “bottle jobs” taunt by staying on course in FA Cup

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Chelsea’s underperforming players were described by one leading British soccer pundit as “billion-pound bottle jobs” after their loss in the English League Cup final.

They’ll need to show they have the stomach for a fight when they return to action on Wednesday in another cup competition that represents their last chance of winning a trophy this season.

Fresh off Sunday’s defeat by a youthful Liverpool team at Wembley Stadium, Chelsea hosts Leeds — an in-form second-tier side on course for an immediate return to the Premier League — in the fifth round of the FA Cup.

No doubt ringing in the ears of Chelsea’s squad will be that cruel taunt by Gary Neville — a former Manchester United and England defender who is now a high-profile analyst for broadcaster Sky Sports — that is dominating the post-League Cup final media agenda.

Chelsea manager Mauricio Pochettino brushed off the criticism, saying it was “not fair to talk in this way” and that Neville knew the “dynamics” in play as the London club looks to gel a squad of young players that has been expensively assembled over the past two years.

Prior to the recent January transfer window, Chelsea had spent more than $1 billion across three windows in the new Todd Boehly-Clearlake Capital regime and has yet to see the benefits.

The tag of “bottle jobs” — meaning people who collapse under pressure — might stick if Chelsea succumbs to Leeds at Stamford Bridge, given how much of a favorite Pochettino’s team will be for the last-16 match.

“They need to feel the pain,” Pochettino said of his players. “We played for a trophy we didn’t get and now, it is the same — what can you tell me to feel better? Nothing. They need to feel the pain and of course they need to realize we need to work more, do better things, we need to improve.”

Chelsea is not in Europe this season and is also far from certain of making it into any European competition next season. The team is in 11th place in the Premier League, though only four points off seventh spot. Finishing in seventh would guarantee a berth in either the Europa League or the Europa Conference League.

The FA Cup, therefore, is suddenly a big deal for Chelsea and Pochettino. Their problem is, there are quite a few top teams left in the draw.

Like defending champion Manchester City, which continues its defense of the trophy — and its bid for back-to-back trebles — with a trip to Luton on Tuesday.

Like Liverpool, which is at home to second-tier Southampton on Wednesday. Jurgen Klopp might have to roll out the kids once again, with an injury crisis robbing the manager of at least 10 senior players. Ryan Gravenberch and Wataru Endo were the latest to pick up injuries in the final against Chelsea.

Manchester United visits Nottingham Forest in an all-Premier League matchup on Wednesday, when Wolverhampton has a home game against fellow top-flight team Brighton.

Tuesday’s other games see second-tier Blackburn hosting struggling Newcastle and Bournemouth at home to second-tier leader Leicester.

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Steve Douglas is at

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AP soccer: /hub/soccer