Chelsea Vs Real Madrid – Will Pulisic prove himself as Chelsea’s new Hazard?
It was not long ago that Christian Pulisic appeared out of favour under Thomas Tuchel — now he is emerging as a man for the big occasion at Chelsea.
Tuchel’s arrival at the start of the year coincided with a spell on the periphery for Pulisic but he has burst back onto the scene impressively in recent weeks.
The American’s performance against Real Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final last week was superb.
And after it came the inevitable comparisons with Eden Hazard, who left Stamford Bridge for the Bernabeu in June 2019.
As the Blues get set for the second leg tonight, we consider whether Pulisic deserves to be included in the same bracket as the ex-Chelsea star.
Pulisic, of course, wears the No10 shirt the Belgian made his own at the Bridge. The latter came on as a substitute against his former club last week but failed to make an impact.
Instead, it was the player touted as Hazard’s potential successor who attracted the headlines for a brilliantly composed finish to put Chelsea ahead in Madrid.
Pulisic, 22, now has four goals in his last eight appearances in all competitions and is quickly becoming undroppable on the left of Tuchel’s attack.
Decisive and confident
Asked about comparisons with Hazard, Tuchel said: “Well he took his number so now he has to live with it!
“So he has a bit of an influence on the comparisons but if people do this maybe they think about it in the best way, no?
“I’m happy that he arrives in the decisive moment of the season in top shape. He has good confidence and this is the key point for him, that he feels confident in his body, calm in his mind and he feels free on the pitch.
“And when he feels like this he can be a decisive guy for us. This is what he proves in the moment.
“He gives us a big physicality and we are very happy he is decisive, he steps up and plays full of confidence. It is good for us.”
Consistency is key
Tuchel has clearly been won over by Pulisic, despite suggestions the former Borussia Dortmund coach was unconvinced when their spells at Signal Iduna Park overlapped.
It is still early enough in his Chelsea tenure for players to prove themselves and the German has already made clear that he is an open-minded manager.
Pulisic has had to work hard to earn his place in the team and he will have to stay consistent over long periods — something he has not yet managed in a blue shirt — if he is to meet Tuchel’s high standards.
Plenty to learn
There is also a question mark around whether or not the United States international can hit the heights of Hazard.
With an average of 5.76 take-ons attempted per game (the third most in the Premier League), Pulisic is clearly a player in the same mould as his predecessor.
But his end product has not been there often enough yet — he remains a young player with plenty to learn.
A step too far?
Former Liverpool star Jamie Carragher remains sceptical about Pulisic’s chances of emulating Hazard, despite being impressed by the winger’s performances in a Chelsea shirt.
Speaking last week, he said: “Hazard was the best player in the Premier League for four years and Belgium finished third in the World Cup [in 2018]. He was the best player in the tournament — that is the level we are talking about with Hazard.
“Yes, I think Pulisic can have a brilliant career and he has a lot of potential but I don’t see him getting to that level.”
For Pulisic, the aim now must be to prove the doubters wrong — starting with another big performance in the Champions League tonight.