Friday, May 13, 2022

‘Ups and downs’: Pulisic on FA Cup redemption and future at Chelsea

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As a player who offers such sharp turns himself, Christian Pulisic finds that it is better to follow your instincts than to overthink them. After all, this was a season that could have gone in so many different directions at so many pivotal moments. Chelsea could have been champions and certainly should have been title contenders. It could have been Pulisic’s year and the player’s father reckons he should have played a lot more.

At the same time, Chelsea could well have gone out of business. There is an element of symmetry that the club are now looking for new owners ahead of a domestic cup final against Liverpool, when questions first began to surface about Roman Abramovich’s future ahead of the most recent domestic cup final against Liverpool after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Carabao Cup final was itself a game that summed up much of it. Chelsea were on par with a team that is now perhaps the best in Europe and could have secured another trophy had a shot off the post, minor offside or a penalty shoot-out gone differently.

No wonder Pulisic says it’s been a season of “ups and downs” and that he’d rather just look at the positives.

For one, Saturday will be a beautifully sunny day at Wembley, which will be packed for the FA Cup Final for the first time since 2019.

Pulisic featured in that final and scored before getting injured against Arsenal but was on the losing side even then. He’s looking forward to a real experience of what the day should really be about – and the challenge of preventing Chelsea from becoming the first club to lose three finals in a row.

“Wembley is an amazing stadium and when it’s full it’s even better so I think it’s going to be a great night. To play in an FA Cup final without restrictions, I’ll like that,” he said. “Of course it was very difficult for the last two to be on the wrong side. They were both very close. It’s a mug I definitely want to add to my collection.”

Of course, a lot of Pulisic’s experience will depend on whether he gets on the pitch. The American star has appeared in just over half of Chelsea’s games this season, and often outside of his best position. It was a source of frustration, especially for his father, who took to social media to complain that his son was no longer being used.

Pulisic himself is much more diplomatic. “Yes, I think I want to be on the pitch naturally and lately I’ve been trying to make as much impact as possible with the limited times I’ve had. And prove that I should be on the pitch. Sometimes it goes like this. I’m enjoying this club a lot and I’m looking at everything and hoping I get more chances and yeah just really go on the pitch and help the team.

However, where he performs on the pitch has an added effect. Pulisic has been used in a variety of roles, including as a full-back, but he is clear about what gets the best of him. “I’m certainly comfortable in a more attacking role as I mainly come from the left – everywhere as a left winger I feel most comfortable on the left,” he says.

“I think a lot has changed this season. I’ve definitely been a bit everywhere, but that’s what happens when you have a very strong squad and I try to adapt as best I can and do my best wherever I’m asked to play.

“I do my best in training to train hard and show him every day that I’m ready to play. And then of course I have to make a difference with the time I’m on the pitch and do my best. And at the end of course the tough talks, but in the end it comes down to a decision and I’m doing everything I can to prove I deserve to be out there.”

Pulisic admits these talks with Thomas Tuchel can go beyond “tough”.

“I mean, yeah, he can be really tough,” he says. “I think he tries to be very direct on the pitch, to get his point across, so he can be very tough and aggressive at times. You never take it personally. That’s what a coach does. You just take it and move on. It has nothing to do with your character.”

Of course, it’s not just tough words from Tuchel. He especially loves Pulisic’s speed on the ball. Every role he’s designed for the American is about that. “I try to use my strengths to my advantage: my speed, quickness, creativity, trying to help the team progress and score goals,” he says. “It’s my job and I’ve had good stretches at times this season. But of course I would like to be more consistent on the pitch and help the team.”

That’s why he might have a chance to start this weekend as that pace can be a particular advantage against Liverpool. In recent games, Jurgen Klopp’s side have proved particularly vulnerable to balls behind full-backs – and fast players charging at them. It’s one of the few reasons Pulisic believes Chelsea can get it right this season. He believes they can show they are as good as Liverpool when it comes down to it and win that trophy too.

“It’s a big game for us, we definitely want to win it against a Liverpool team that we’ve gone toe-to-toe with every time we’ve played them this season,” he says. “We drew against them twice in the league and in the Carabao Cup final I thought we had a great performance and also had a lot of chances to score.

“This is a team that we can keep up with. They have a lot of talent and incredible players and a great manager. It will never be easy. It’s a game and absolutely anything can happen in football. I don’t think we necessarily need an incredible and amazing performance. I think if we play extremely well and how we can play, I think we can do it.

If they have been so close to Liverpool in games, why are they so far away in the league? Has the uncertainty from the Abramovich sale affected the squad?

“I don’t think it’s huge,” says Pulisic. “Obviously it affects a lot of people in different ways and I can’t speak for everyone but we’re trying to focus on everyday life and keep playing. We’re still very lucky to be able to play for this club and try to just focus on football, that’s all we can do as players. So, personally, it didn’t do much.

“I think overall we have achieved a lot. We were very close on some of our achievements. We fought hard in the Champions League, very close to the semifinals. We put in some impressive performances in the Carabao Cup final and now we have a chance in the FA Cup final. So I think there’s definitely been ups and downs, but overall we just have to look ahead. Do our best to win this and then we can say it’s been a pretty successful season.”

Saturday could bring yet another sharp turn.

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