After an impressive display in Chelsea’s first-leg victory over Lille last month, Christian Pulisic was given the nod in the return fixture in France on Wednesday evening.
The USA international, though, was deployed in a slightly different role to normal, with the 23-year-old forward being used in a front two alongside the in-form Kai Havertz. It was Pulisic’s third start in the Champions League this term, and personally, it was a huge opportunity for him to impress Thomas Tuchel with so much competition for those forward places at the moment.
Speaking before the game, Tuchel confirmed the thinking behind his selection, with Pulisic perhaps coming in to offer some “fresh legs” in attack. He said to BT Sport: “It’s just little changes. It doesn’t feel so much but we had only two days in between and two days before Newcastle in between matches so I think some of these changes are necessary to have fresh legs and also a fresh mindset.”
Pulisic certainly brought some freshness to the European champions, but it would not happen straight away for the former Borussia Dortmund wide man. It took some time for the American to get going, despite Tuchel setting out an obvious plan to try and get
Edouard Mendy would aim for Havertz up front from goal kicks, with the German boasting stronger aerial ability than Pulisic and he would look to find the American. However, as was seen for the first time around 10 minutes in, the ball was not quite falling for Pulisic.
Pulisic’s first real involvement in the game was just under 15 minutes in, where he was forced to drift out to the left wing to collect the ball. He did finally receive possession in the middle of the park but was crowded out by two Lille players.
The proposition of Havertz and Pulisic playing together in a front two was one that Chelsea supporters will have been excited to see before the game, but the two could not get close enough to each other.
The American did not stop grafting, though. He kept making smart runs off the ball and that was finally rewarded just before half-time, where he latched onto a fine Jorginho pass to smash the ball into the bottom corner to cancel out Burak Yilmaz’s penalty opener.
The run and finish from Pulisic was worthy of a striker – the unorthodox position he was being utilised in on the night. It’s everything Timo Werner needs to add to his game for Chelsea.
Earlier this month, Tuchel told Pulisic that he needs to “focus” in order to reach the next level for Chelsea. Every supporter knows the talent the American possesses.
“He’s in a good moment, in good form,” Tuchel said. “There is a good link-up between him, Mason and Kai. They have assists together, are decisive, have goals.
“For me, what Christian needs and what he can bring to the team is his physicality and ability to hit high intensity repetitively, on a high frequency. This is the focus and from there the other thing is that he has the ambition and natural hunger, ambition to arrive in the six-yard box.
“This is good, this is what we need. He needs to focus on these things and start from there. If he does and feels the physical fitness, the physical ability to do so, he can have a huge influence in our game.”