A couple of years back eyebrows were raised when the England rugby union team started to describe their replacements as finishers on team-sheets. The basic idea was for Eddie Jones’ non-starters to feel as involved as those in the starting XV.
You are as important, you will be on the pitch when it matters most – closing the game out.
Which brings to mind Thomas Tuchel’s approach to substitutes. It was clear once again last night, both before and after the clinical 2-0 win against Porto that leaves the West London club with one foot in the Champions League semi-finals.
Prior to kick off the German head coach volunteered to BT Sport that N’Golo Kante, recovered from a hamstring injury, would definitely be coming off the bench.
Then at full-time Tuchel spoke about the importance of having “impact from the bench physically, but also with quality” and for no one is this point more applicable than Christian Pulisic.
It has been a weird campaign for the American. Limited by nagging injury issues, he has often appeared a fringe member of the cast and has scored just three goals and contributed two assists. Every time he comes into the starting XI he seems to pick up a niggle and he is yet to complete an entire 90 minutes under Tuchel.
The theory that Tuchel prefers Pulisic as fresh legs to be introduced late on, hoping that his pace can punish tired opponents, is becoming harder to argue against despite him starting against West Bromwich Albion last Saturday (and coming off at the interval because of another feeling of discomfort).
Pulisic’s job may now instead be to stretch wilting defences in the final stages of games – contribute to a final blow on some nights, be the game-changer in others.
“I wanted to have an impact from the bench,” Tuchel said in Seville last night. “Christian has a good momentum … We wanted to give the sign that we keep on going [in the game].”
Last night was Pulisic’s 14th appearance under Tuchel, nine of them have come off the bench and two of the five starts were in the FA Cup.
The route to a regular starting role is unclear until he starts contributing with more goals and assists but it is also evident that the head coach is channeling Jones’ mentality, preaching the importance of it being a squad game in the most congested season.