After his star turn in the first leg, and after being rested over the weekend against Fulham, we had expected Christian Pulisic to start Wednesday night’s second leg against Real Madrid as well. But Tinker Tailor Tuchel had other ideas, and gave the nod to Kai Havertz instead, in what was the only change to the starting lineup from the first leg.
While Havertz had grabbed an important brace by scoring both goals in our 2-0 win over Fulham on Saturday, Tuchel’s decision had more to do with Kai’s overall characteristics rather than any goal-scoring exploits (especially as both Havertz and Pulisic have been in fine form in that regard).
“Christian got a bad message for him today unfortunately, but I’m pretty sure we need more than 11 players to sneak through today.”
“It’s good to have Christian from the bench. Kai gives us a little bit of height also against the set-pieces and maybe in fast attacks can keep the ball.”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: BT Sport via Football.London
Havertz certainly used both of those qualities well, holding up the ball expertly in at least one memorable sequence while also hitting the crossbar with a header from a set piece. Meanwhile, Pulisic came off the bench to provide a huge spark in the last 25 minutes, including a fantastic assist for Chelsea’s second goal, turned in by Mason Mount, which settled the tie for good five minutes from time.
Tuchel himself acknowledged that his lineup decision was harsh on Pulisic, but applauded the young winger for channeling his anger and frustration stemming from that decision in the proper way.
“It was a very tough decision against Christian today [but] I’m very happy that Christian turned his anger around into positive energy for the team, helped the team, and assisted the decisive goal. So big credit to him (and the whole team).”
-Thomas Tuchel; source: beIN Sport
Of course, every player wants to start — and we need every player to want to start to have success at this level of the sport — and Pulisic is no different. And of course the media will play up this situation as much as possible, especially across the Pond, where the 22-year-old’s frustration will make for some juicy headlines.
“Very frustrated [yes] there’s not much else to say. I wanted to play from the beginning, as I always do. I’ve had to continue to prove myself over and over again. But, as always I reach out to God and he gives me strength. With that behind me, nothing can stop me really.”
-Christian Pulisic; source: CBS Sports
It's crazy that we go that far back so it is special to be on this stage and doing this together."— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) May 5, 2021
From Chelsea's academy to the #UCL Final. Christian Pulisic on what it meant to assist Mason Mount's goal pic.twitter.com/HUTud94nvx
Not long after, Pulisic reached out to based goalkeeping god Édouard Mendy for some wild post-match celebrations in the dressing room.