In Chelsea’s 2-0 home win over Atletico Madrid on Wednesday 17 March, a result which eased the Blues into the Champions League quarter finals, the clearest indication yet of what Thomas Tuchel wants from his players was provided. Faced with a tricky test against high calibre opponents, the Stamford Bridge side were complete in all areas of their performance.
Indeed, it was a display that made many reassess Chelsea’s Champions League chances this season. Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain might be tournament favourites, and with good reason, but Tuchel’s team are building momentum. The German coach is getting the best out of the players he inherited in late January.
Christian Pulisic, however, is not one of those players. Seen as one of Chelsea’s prize assets under Frank Lampard, the American has generally struggled to make Tuchel’s first team, starting just one Premier League
The 22-year-old was handed a rare start in the FA Cup win over Sheffield United and impressed, but Pulisic is still very much looking in from the outside at Stamford Bridge. “It hasn’t been the easiest thing,” Pulisic recently admitted while on international duty.
MORE FOR YOU
“Obviously, I’m a guy who always wants to play, but I think I’m on a really good path. I love to take on challenges. I love to, not prove people wrong, but prove myself right in a way. So I’ll just continue to work hard.”
Pulisic has already proved his critics wrong once before at Chelsea. The American took some time to find his feet in the Premier League following his €64 million switch from Borussia Dortmund in the summer window of 2019, ultimately showing his worth as the direct replacement for Eden Hazard in his first season at Stamford Bridge.
This time, however, Pulisic has to do more than just grow accustomed to new surroundings. Given that Tuchel gave the American his senior debut at Dortmund, it’s somewhat surprising that the German coach doesn’t seem so keen on the winger at his new club. In Germany, though, the relationship between the two was also strained.
One of the most notable aspects of Chelsea’s convincing Champions League win over Atletico Madrid was the way their front three of Kai Havertz, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech worked together. There was a fluidity and interchangeability to the attacking trio that made Chelsea the sort of dynamic outfit Tuchel envisages.
Havertz, having been misused by Lampard, was deployed through the middle with Werner on the left and Ziyech on the right. Pulisic is most effective on the left wing, but the American doesn’t have the same chemistry with Havertz that Werner has. What’s more, Werner’s natural pace gives Chelsea a way to stretch the pitch and create space.
Chelsea’s spending spree last summer saw an abundance of attacking talent pitch up at Stamford Bridge. Lampard was never able to find the right structure and selection, but Tuchel has had more success in this regard. The German has recognised he can’t fit every attacker into his side. Instead, he has focused on a core of forwards.
Through this process Pulisic could find himself on the peripheries of Tuchel’s Chelsea team. He might even face a fight for his future at the club should this lack of regular action continue. Not for the first time, the American has a point to prove, but this time it appears to be his own manager who requires most convincing.