As a player who himself offers such sharp turns, Christian Pulisic finds it’s better to follow his instincts than overthink them.
This has after all been a season that could have gone in so many different directions at so many defining 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 feels he should have played much more.
At the same time, Chelsea could well have gone out of business. There’s an element of symmetry about the fact that the club now look to have new owners secure before a domestic cup final against Liverpool, when the build-up to their last domestic cup final against Liverpool saw the first questions about Roman Abramovich’s future raised in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
That Carabao Cup final was itself a game that summed up much of this. Chelsea were the equal of a team that may now be the best in Europe, and could have secured another trophy had a shot off the post, marginal offside call or shootout penalty gone a different way.
Little wonder Pulisic says it’s been a season of “ups and downs”, and that he’d rather just look to the positives.
One is the fact that Saturday is set to be a beautifully sunny day at Wembley, which will be full for the FA Cup final for the first time since 2019.
Pulisic played in that final too, scoring before getting injured against Arsenal, but was on the losing side then too. He is looking forward to a proper experience of what the day is really supposed to be about – and the challenge of preventing Chelsea becoming the first club to lose three consecutive finals.
“Wembley is an incredible stadium and when it’s full it’s even better, so I think it’s going to be a great night. Playing in an FA Cup final without any limitations I’ll enjoy that,” he says. “For sure, the last two have been very tough to be on the wrong side. They were both very close. It’s a cup I definitely want to add to my collection.”
Much of Pulisic’s experience will of course depend on whether he gets on the pitch. The American star has appeared in just over half of Chelsea’s matches this season, and often out of his best position. It has been a source of frustration, most of all to his father, who took to social media to complain about how his son is not used more.
Pulisic himself is much more diplomatic.
“Yeah I think I of course want to be on the pitch, and recently with the limited times that I have had I have been trying to make as big of an impact as I can. And prove that I should be out on the pitch. Sometimes that’s how it goes. I enjoy this club a lot, and I’m looking at everything and hoping that I can get more opportunities and yeah just really get out there on the pitch and help the team.”
Where he appears on the pitch has an extra effect, though. Pulisic has been used in various roles, including wing-back, but he is clear about what brings the best out of him.
“I’m comfortable in a more attacking role, for sure, mainly coming from the left side – anywhere as a left-winger, on the left side, is where I feel most comfortable,” he says.
“I think there’s been a lot of change this season. I’ve definitely been all over the place a bit, but that’s what happens when you have a very deep squad, and I try to adapt as best I can and do the best I can wherever I’m asked to play.
“I do the absolute best I can in training, to train hard and show him every day on a daily basis that I’m ready to play. And then of course with the time that I get on the pitch I have to make an impact, and do the best you can. And in the end obviously the tough conversations, but in the end it comes down to a decision, and I am giving everything that I can to try to prove that I deserve to be out there.”
Pulisic admits that those conversations with Thomas Tuchel can go beyond “tough”.
“I mean, yeah, he can be very hard,” he says. “I think he tries to be very direct on the pitch, 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.”
It isn’t all harsh words from Tuchel, of course. He does specifically love Pulisic’s speed on the ball. Any role he has devised for the American is around that.
“Trying to use my strengths to my advantage: my speed, quickness, creativity, try to help the team to advance and score goals,” he says. “That’s my job, and I’ve had good stretches at times during this season. But of course I’d like to be more consistently on the pitch and helping the team.”
It is why he may have a chance of starting this weekend, since that pace can be a particular asset against Liverpool. The last few games have seen Jurgen Klopp’s side prove especially vulnerable to balls in behind the wing-backs – and fast players streaking onto them. It is one of a few reasons Pulisic believes Chelsea can set this season right. He thinks they can show they’re as good as Liverpool when it comes down to it, and also win that trophy.
“It’s a big match for us, we definitely want to win this against a Liverpool side that whenever we have played against them we have gone toe-to-toe 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 a lot of chances to score as well.
“It’s a team we can match up with well. They have a ton of talent and incredible players and a great manager. It’s never going to be easy. It’s one game and in football absolutely anything can happen. I don’t think we necessarily need an incredible and amazing performance. I think if we play extremely well and how we are capable of playing I think we can do it.”
If they have been that close to Liverpool in games, the question persists as to why they are so far away in the league? Did the uncertainty from the Abramovich sale affect the squad?
“I don’t think it has immensely,” Pulisic says. “It obviously affects a lot of people in different ways and I can’t speak for everyone, but what we try to do is focus on the day to day and continue to play. We are still extremely fortunate to have an opportunity to play for this club, and try to just focus on the football, that’s all we can do as players. So personally it hasn’t done a whole lot.
“I think overall we accomplished a lot. We were very close in some of our accomplishments. We put up a big fight in the Champions League, very close to making it to the semi-finals. The Carabao Cup final we put up some impressive performances, and now we have a chance in the FAC final. So I think there have definitely been ups and downs, but overall we just have to look forward. Do our best to win this, and then I think we can say it has been a pretty successful season.”
Saturday could yet involve another sharp turn.