It has often felt like Christian Pulisic is still having to prove himself to his manager this season, having to settle for starts here and there rather than a sustained run in Frank Lampard’s team. Yet in terms of goal involvement per minute, he is just as productive as top goalscorer Tammy Abraham and far more efficient than Willian and Mason Mount, two midfielders who have enjoyed much more game time than the 21-year-old American.
At the King Power Stadium he looked like Chelsea’s most potent player. He went closer than any of his teammates in the first half, cutting inside on to his right foot and forcing a fine save by Kasper Schmeichel, and he was always lively in the final third. Pulisic will surely now play a pivotal role in the season’s end.
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Perhaps it should not be a surprise that a disciple of Jose Mourinho should be willing to be so decisive at half-time, but it was interesting to see Lampard waste no time in ringing the changes after a disappointing first half full of individual errors.
There was no sentimentality, either. Lampard has always insisted he would never choose young homegrown talent for show but because they had earned their stripes. Here he was ruthless with his young Blues, pulling out Billy Gilmour, Mason Mount and Reece James for the more experienced heads of Mateo Kovacic, Ross Barkley and the captain, Cesar Azpilicueta.
Perhaps the signing of Timo Werner shows some of that ruthlessness too. Yes, Werner is only 24, but he is a proven striker in both the Bundesliga and at international level. Lampard is keen to blood fresh talent but clearly he is not willing to let those principles stand in the way of getting results, and both Barkley and Azpilicueta were involved in the winning goal.
Even if Ross Barkley doesn’t play a key role in Chelsea’s Premier League run-in, he has surely done enough to play an important part in their tilt at the FA Cup. This goal, taken brilliantly with a dart into the box reminiscent of his manager, was his third int he competition this season, breaking the deadlock just as Lampard would have asked of him as a half-time substitute.
Questions still remain over Barkley’s decision making, as well as his long-term fitness, but here he showed exactly what he can offer when he’s in the team, particularly playing in that forward-facing No 8 role. Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s late cameo was reminder of the depth in Chelsea’s midfield, but Barkley will surely get another opportunity in the Wembley semi-final to come.
Make no mistake, this has been a fine season by Leicester, one step away from Wembley in both cup competitions, narrowly losing out to a big-six side on both occasions. Now attentions must turn to the ultimate goal: reaching the Champions League. Missing out on the top four would be a travesty after such a sensational campaign, but their stuttering recent form means Chelsea, Wolves and Manchester United are suddenly breathing down their necks in third place.
Brendan Rodgers may secretly breathe a sigh of relief that at least there are no more distractions from what would be a massive achievement, and might just persuade key players like Ben Chilwell and James Maddison to stick around.
There was something slightly comical about seeing Premier League footballers stop for a drinks break in driving rain. The regulation to have a short break during the middle of each half is there for obvious reasons as the football calendar is pushed into the summer months, but there is a clear argument for the referee to decide whether it is needed on a match-by-match basis. It was unnecessary here, and if anything it seemed to suck some of the tempo out of the game.
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