Pulisic sends warning
This season has not been easy for Christian Pulisic. He started Chelsea‘s opening two games of the campaign – the UEFA Super Cup and Premier League opener against Crystal Palace – but then tested positive for Covid-19.
That forced him into a ten-day period of self-isolation. His return at the end of August coincided with an international break and during that he suffered an ankle injury while on duty with the U.S. that would sideline him for almost three months.
It was a difficult period for Pulisic, especially given he hoped that a full pre-season would put an end to the fitness concerns that impacted his first two years at Chelsea. But he is back and making an impact.
The 23-year-old has been reintroduced slowly by Thomas Tuchel; there were substitute appearances against Malmo and Burnley and two while away with the USMNT.
Another appearance off the bench was afforded against Leicester City at the weekend, a game in which Pulisic scored. It was no great surprise then – given Romelu Lukaku has only just returned from an ankle problem and Kai Havertz was ruled out – that the American star started against Juventus.
Deployed in a false nine role, Pulisic helped disrupt the Serie A giants’ defence with his contest movement and hard running. He may not have got a goal, but the 72 minutes he completed will almost certainly prove hugely important in the weeks ahead.
“It has been a long couple of months,” Pulisic said after the game when he reflected on his ankle injury. “It is tough to not be able to play, do what I love and help my team. I am thrilled to be back and it is great to be back within the team.
“I would say, as far as fitness, I am close to where I want to be but that I can still improve and that comes with minutes. I played it quite smart in how I came back with not too much too soon. It has been really good. I am happy with the way I feel right now.”
Pulisic will be in contention to feature against Manchester United on Sunday. Whether that will be as a false nine or one of the tens will be determined later in the week, not that the USMNT star is fazed by either role.
“I think I can play in a lot of the attacking positions within this team. [Against Juventus] I was in a slightly different role. I am not on the ball as much as I usually am or able to use some of my strengths but I think it is a position that I can play. I can create a lot of space for my teammates and I am happy to play there as well.”
No stopping Silva
Given Thiago Silva celebrated his 37th birthday in September, there was an expectation that Brazilian would be eased through this season. A midweek game in Malmo? No chance. Three matches a week? Unlikely. How wrong he has proved so many.
Silva has started the last seven games in the Premier League and Champions League for Chelsea. Of those, the Blues have won six and conceded just one goal. The Brazilian is a huge reason as to why.
His legs may not be as quick as in years past, but his mind is usually two steps ahead of any opposition attacker. That was evident once again against Juventus.
There were several occasions in which he stepped out to intercept a pass or shift across to snuff out danger before a Juventus attacker could get on the ball.
He also, of course, made a crucial first-half clearance from under his own crossbar to ensure Alvaro Morata didn’t score on his return to Stamford Bridge.
Silva’s performance was flawless and all the more impressive given – as football.london was told before kick-off – the Brazil international was nursing a cold.
Clearly, there is very little that can stop the centre-back at this moment.
How Rudiger welcomed Morata back
The summer transfer window of 2017 remains one of the most infamous in Chelsea’s recent history. Antonio Rudiger was signed but that was a rare success. Also recruited were Tiemoue Bakayoko, Danny Drinkwater, Davide Zappacosta, and Morata, who was the most expensive of the bunch.
The Blues spent an initial £60million to sign the Spaniard from Real Madrid but after a positive start, his form deteriorated and his confidence evaporated. He would spend just 18 months at Stamford Bridge before signing for Atletico Madrid on a loan deal that would later become permanent.
“I’ve never had depression and I hope I never do, but I came close,” Morata said in an interview with El Mundo earlier this year when discussing his time at Chelsea. “I don’t believe it is given the importance that it should.
“When your head doesn’t work well, you are your worst enemy. During those times, it doesn’t matter what you do, you are always fighting against yourself. Depression is an illness just like breaking your ankle.”
Morata would spend 18 months with Atletico before rejoining Juventus in the summer of 2020. He scored 20 goals last season and has four this. It’s partly why he was chosen to spearhead the Old Lady’s attack against Chelsea last night.
It wasn’t necessarily the welcome back Morata would’ve wanted. Partly down to Silva, he didn’t get on the scoresheet and the Spain international was booed by the majority of home supporters inside Stamford Bridge. He did receive affection from former teammates, though.
In the Chelsea tunnel before the game, Morata shared an embrace and quick chat with Antonio Rudiger. There was also a short catch-up with Callum Hudson-Odoi, who was only just breaking into the first-team set-up during the striker’s time at Chelsea.
And when Morata was brought off in the second period by Massimiliano Allegri, he made a point of greeting those within the Chelsea backroom staff who he knew from his time in west London.