For the first hour, Chelsea’s return to action looked to be a welcome yet ultimately highly frustrating affair. The Blues had little to show for our efforts at Villa Park and were in fact losing thanks to the latest silly set piece goal conceded.
But then, the mood of the afternoon changed in almost an instant, as Christian Pulisic and Olivier Giroud scored within two minutes of each other and Chelsea would go on to make that 2-1 lead count for all three points. While the record will show that César Azpilicueta collected both assists, the game-changing difference was made by the two substitutes who had arrived on the pitch just five minutes prior.
After the win, head coach Frank Lampard acknowledged both of their key contributions.
“The players who make the differences should always take all the credit. With Christian and Ross (Barkley), they came on at the same time and have trained well. Had cases to start but I have some good selection problems.
“Then you have to consider the type of game and that fitness will play a part, and bringing on Christian and Barkley early in the second half was always in my mind depending on how the game went. The way it was going we needed a bit of inspiration, Christian with his goal and Ross did as well. I think it shows how important subs are.”
Given the congested fixture list and the concerns over fitness and health after a three-month layoff, smartly utilizing the increased number of substitutes allowed will indeed be crucial. Lampard only used four of the five allowed on Sunday, and one of them was only made in the final minute. That is perhaps not ideal.
But we’re all learning and that’s where Lampard himself can improve. For the (young) players themselves, like Pulisic who was making his first appearance since January thanks to injuries, there’s also plenty of improvement to be had.
“Yes, I hope [he can make an impact for the rest of the season]. He was hungry. I know that and I felt for him as I felt for all the players with long term injuries, Ruben was in the same position, but I know Christian was very hungry. He has trained well.
“The ability that he has got to arrive in the box is a big thing that I have spoken to him about all season. It is the difference between being a very good player off-the-side as an attacking player or the players at the real top level of the game that arrive and score in the six yard box and hit big numbers yearly. I really think Christian can do that so I was pleased with the impact he made when he came on.
“He will start games for us, of course. I think he is going to be a big player for us, not just in this run-in, but going forward.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Football.London
Chelsea have two massive games coming up later this week, at home to Manchester City in the league on Thursday, then away to Leicester City in the FA Cup quarterfinal on Sunday. There will be plenty of need for rotation and plenty of chances for heroes to step up and make the difference.
Who will it be next time?