The game changed drastically in the 59th minute. Liverpool was poised to run away with a seemingly easy victory. The Champions had built a 4-1 lead for themselves in the first 55 minutes of the game. Chelsea’s lone goal up to this point did little to inflict any sort of concern into Liverpool’s game plan.
Liverpool was having their way with the match until Frank Lampard made his first substitution – a triple substitution in the 59th minute. This change saw Chelsea’s front three exit the match, replaced by a new front three. Christian Pulisic replaced Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham replaced Olivier Giroud, and Callum Hudson-Odoi replaced Willian.
The importance of this change was twofold: the slow-footed Giroud made way for a much swifter Tammy Abraham, and Mason Mount was replaced by a direct attacker in Christian Pulisic. These changes were critical in setting a new tone for how Lampard wanted his team to play. He wanted Chelsea to run at Liverpool’s backline, and to run at them fast – in an attempt to win points to confirm Champions League football next season. The effects caused by this substitution were immediate, but more on the conclusion of this game later.
It is not up for debate that Christian Pulisic had a slow start to his life in the Premier League. Signed from Borussia Dortmund for $73 million prior to the 2019-2020 campaign, the young American was only able to record 2 assists in his first 9 appearances in the league. His 10th appearance was very important, however, because Pulisic registered a hat-trick against Burnley in late October. He then recorded goals in his next 2 appearances against Watford and Crystal Palace. Pulisic was learning his way around the league and was finally able to make an impact on the score sheet for the Blues.
Unfortunately, this was short-lived, as Pulisic could not register a goal or an assist in any of his next 8 league appearances. While the young American was registering shots on goal and providing an off-score sheet impact to the Blue’s offense during this stretch, the stats dried up. To compound this dry spell Christian picked up an injury which left him out of service for 11 league games. On top of this, the league then shut down due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Pulisic’s first season in a blue shirt so far left a bit to be desired. This would all change.
The Premier League restarted the season in June 2020, after all teams spent roughly 3 months on the sidelines. For Pulisic, the shutdown was a blessing in disguise. He quickly became Chelsea’s best attacking player. The former Dortmund man is credited with registering 4 goals, 2 assists, and 22 shots on goal in his 8 appearances since Chelsea’s restart against Aston Villa on June 21st.
Pulisic came out of the gates running, and he shows no sign of slowing down. Sure, being a very fit 21-year-old helps his efforts, but there has been an obvious tenacity to his game that was not present before his injury in January. Running at defenders, dribbling around them down the left, and either shooting or crossing to Giroud or Abraham has been his game-plan, and boy, does it work.
This begs two important questions, however:
- Why is Lampard seemingly reluctant to start Pulisic consistently?
- What role will Pulisic play with the arrival of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech, and (potentially) Kai Havertz?
To answer the first question, I must make a disclaimer: I am neither a football tactician nor do not sit in on Frank Lampard’s pregame planning meetings. Lampard has a plan for certain ways he wants to approach a match, and it is obvious that he has had a tendency to favor Mason Mount on the left side of his front three this season.
However, Mount has proven that he is more of a traditional midfielder with an attacking mindset rather than a pure attacker. He possesses a solid football IQ, but cannot match the attacking prowess that Pulisic offers. This has been well documented this season as whenever Pulisic is left out of the starting 11, the fans are all left questioning why.
In instances where Pulisic is omitted from the starting 11 and subbed on in the second half, he seems to play with a chip on his shoulder with one mission – create goals. Maybe this is Lampard’s plan, to bring on a super-sub who will deliver results – but who is to say. Perhaps Lampard believes that a left side of Marcos Alonso, Mount, and Pulisic leaves his backline exposed with such attacking-minded players always looking to get forward. Perhaps Lampard just wants to give Pulisic a rest once and a while.
We do not know, especially when Pulisic’s glaring omission against Liverpool left thousands of Chelsea supporters puzzled. Fitting Mount into the starting 11 each match is Lampard’s goal, but it is clear that his spot in the lineup is not in the front three. Pulisic has proven since the restart that there is no debate for who should start in this role, and Lampard should have plenty of proof of this.
New and Improved Attack
To answer the second question, we know Lampard now has an abundance of attacking options. An ideal Chelsea attack, with current form considered, would see Pulisic on the left, Havertz in the middle, Ziyech on the right, and Werner playing as a lone striker in front. In this formation, any combination of Chelsea’s midfielders can work with Havertz as an attacking pivot who can distribute to Pulisic or Ziyech on the wings or straight through to Werner for a direct shot on goal. Chelsea would have an unstoppable attack in this formation.
It is worth noting that Pulisic, Havertz, and Werner all developed in the Bundesliga at the same time and share a similar mentality. Once adjusted to the Premier League’s defenders, they will be lethal considering the skill level of these young studs. But what about Giroud, Willian, Mount, and Abraham?
Well, age is not on the good side of Giroud and Willian. Giroud is already extremely slow-footed at 33. These veterans now become part of Lampard’s artillery off the bench. How about Mount and Abraham? They will have their opportunities, plenty of them, especially with Chelsea poised to secure European football next season. They will have a place as consistent subs and occasional starts as well. All things considered, it is extremely difficult to justify a consistent omission of Pulisic in Chelsea’s starting 11 in the upcoming season, especially considering Chelsea’s projected lineup with their new superstars.
Christian Changes the Game
So, how did the Chelsea – Liverpool game change after the 59th minute? Pulisic found a way to dribble through 4 Liverpool players into the final third before delivering a perfect cross on to the foot of Tammy Abraham. Abraham diligently deposited the cross into the net in the 61st minute. Clinical. 4-2 Liverpool within 2 minutes of the substitution.
Fast-forward 12 minutes, 12 minutes of the game which Chelsea controlled, to a throw-in in Chelsea’s half. Poor positioning saw two Liverpool players fall down, which Callum Hudson-Odoi capitalized on. He collected the ball, raced forward into the final third, and passed it to Pulisic in the box. After some repositioning, he fired his shot past Alisson into the back of the net. Lethal. 4-3 Liverpool.
Regardless of the eventual 5-3 outcome, which saw Chelsea drop points and left their Champions League hopes to be decided on Sunday, the game had completely changed within 15 minutes of Pulisic’s arrival. The young American was the driving force behind the change of Chelsea’s play. The case for Christian could not be clearer – buckle up.
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