After about an hour into Chelsea’s defensively languid 5-3 defeat against Liverpool, I actually debated turning off the match. It’s not something that I would normally ever do. But when you’re on #VacationMode, the need to suss out all the negative energy trumps all. And losing to Liverpool brings out all the negative energy.
Mentally, I was prepared to shut it all off, TV and WiFi included. There is a beauty when you can legitimately unplug from the world and achieve tranquility. You can let your mind escape from the troubles of 2020, or in this case the troubles of sporting fandom when performances do not go your way.
After a reasonably solid start against the Premier League champions, the wheels had utterly fallen off. Each of Liverpool’s first three goals seemed to encapsulate all that has been wrong with Chelsea’s 2019-20 season to date.
An unfortunate sequence of individual mistakes allowed Naby Keïta to score a thunderous goal, following a giveaway from Willian dribbling into traffic. A questionable foul on Sadio Mané by Mateo Kovačić gave Trent Alexander-Arnold the opportunity to score a sensational goal. The unfortunate fallout brought questions on Kepa Arrizabalaga’s qualities and abilities as his feet were rooted in place, watching Alexander-Arnold’s free kick curl in. The third goal came from a corner, shocking no one given Chelsea’s disastrous set piece defending all year.
By the time Chelsea allowed Roberto Firmino to score his first home Premier League goal of the seaosn, I was ready to be done with football for the day. Perhaps all the way until Sunday.
Yet, Lampard’s triple substitution piqued my interest. Among those incoming was Christian Pulisic, who was on the bench for the second straight match, despite being arguably the team’s best and most in-form player since the Restart.
My love for Pulisic should come as no surprise. I did predict Pulisic would be the breakout star for Chelsea and beyond.
My expectations were rather low upon his arrival, along with fellow young starlets Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi. But then after less than two minutes of being on the pitch, Pulisic made an instant impact.
Almost out of nothing, Pulisic conjured up a breathtakingly sequence of touches, deftly dribbling around and through four Liverpool players. The manner which he transitioned from collecting the ball to attacking was quick and decisive, as smooth as a knife gliding through butter. By the time he had created yards of space in the box, he had embarrassed and nutmegged Joe Gomez.
Hit em with the Hershey Shoulder Drop. pic.twitter.com/lAomLtO4BH— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) July 22, 2020
Chelsea only needed a point out of this contest to ensure Champions League football next season. But the match was sordidly going against us in almost every facet. Before two of Lampard’s substitutes combined for Chelsea’s second, the thought of the Blues getting a result out of the match seemed nigh on impossible.
And yet, hope springs eternal, as they say, and Pulisic was springing it with every touch. He squandered a chance nearly a minute or so after Abraham’s goal, flashing a shot wide.
“He’s so young, he has such natural talent. He scores goals, he creates goals and he is a big player for us. Delighted to see him come through fit. Clearly he will be a big player for us in these next few games but going forward as well.”
-Frank Lampard; source: Football.London
It would be unfair to pin Chelsea’s comeback attempt solely on Pulisic, as both Abraham and Hudson-Odoi did well to bring life to Chelsea’s faltering attack. However, this ode is to Pulisic, who was the creator and instigator of the brief twenty-five minute period where the hope of a Chelsea comeback lived. It would only take twelve minutes after Abraham’s goal for Pulisic to seemingly put that into full motion.
It was the type of cool finish one would expect from a seasoned, experienced veteran, not someone who just reached 10 goals in a season for the first time in his career. The maturity and calmness to collect the ball under pressure and to seemingly slow down time around him to rip a shot into the upper corner is exactly the type of play we needs from Chelsea’s star players.
It’s the type of goal that solidified Pulisic’s status, for me, as one of Chelsea’s star players right now. He’s moved well past the distinction of a promising 21-year-old. He’s the driving force for the fourth best Premier League team (current table). And it’s beautiful.
Comeback stories are a testament to the beauty that football can create. They are enthralling in the moment, as the suspense and anxiety boils over. And they are the stories we remember the most. We tell all who could possibly care (and those who couldn’t possibly care, too); the memories of something out of nothing unforgettable.
Chelsea have had a rich history of moments like these: Chelsea vs. Napoli and Chelsea vs B.ayern Munich during our legendary 2012 Champions League campaign come to mind immediately. This season, we can point to that most amazing eight-goal thriller against Ajax.
Just the thought of witnessing another monumental comeback was enough to bring the life and energy back to the occasion. It brought life back into Chelsea, who looked to have all the momentum to snatch a fourth goal and complete the comeback from three drown to 4-4.
“We were very close, we got it within one goal and the momentum was really changing, I thought we had them but obviously it is just that one counter attack and it changed real quick. We weren’t quite there.”
“In the second half the subs coming in and making a difference and getting a quick goal, that changes things. You could see thy were on the back foot for a while but they withstood our pressure. We were very close.”
“We needed the result today, unfortunately we couldn’t get it, but luckily it is still in our hands and we have one more game to go. We go next game and we win and we qualify for Champions League and that’s the goal.”
-Christian Pulisic, source: Sky via NBC Sports
For twenty-five minutes, if you allowed yourself to succumb to the irrational and embed yourself in blind hope, the dream of a comeback was very much real.
And then we rode that emotional rollercoaster to its heart-wrenching demise.
We may forget the details of this match in the coming years. On Sunday, we’ll find out what the future holds for this young team, and that’s bound to be dramatic.
But despite all the disappointments 2020 has brought us, we saw for twenty-five minutes a Chelsea team, led by Christian Pulisic, fighting back against one of the best Premier League teams ever assembled.