Pulisic reacts to assist, being back in Chelsea team

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SOUTHAMPTON — Chants of “USA, USA!” were heard outside St Mary’s stadium as Christian Pulisic walked towards the Chelsea team bus on Sunday after playing his part in a resounding Premier League win for the Blues.

[ MORE: How do Pulisic perform? ]

The 21-year-old USMNT star came on and grabbed an assist in his first Premier League minutes since August 31, and after a spell on the bench and out of the squad completely last week at Lille in the UEFA Champions League, Pulisic impressed in his brief cameo on England’s south coast.

Pulisic recorded a lovely assist in his 15 minutes on the pitch, cleverly finding Michy Batshuayi to make it 4-1. The celebrations with Batshuayi, his teammates and the coaching staff at the final whistle showed how happy Pulisic is and he was delighted to make an impact after coming on.

“I did the best I could with the minutes I got. I tried to get in and help the team as best I could and I was happy I could do that,” Pulisic said. “I’m happy. I want to continue to work harder and I never want to stop and I want to continue to get more minutes.”

Pulisic jumped on the back of Jorginho after the game and was ecstatic to be back on the pitch and making the most of his minutes. Maybe this stint on the sidelines was what he needed. Maybe this is all part of Frank Lampard’s masterplan.

After telling Pro Soccer Talk it was ‘very frustrating’ to be on the bench as an unused sub in recent weeks, Pulisic was asked if he’s been surprised to be left out after starting plenty of games at the start of the season.

He just wants to do everything he can to make sure he gets on the pitch.

“Of course, as a professional player you want to play, you want to be on the field and be a part of the team as much as you can. It hurt not to be there but I’m happy I got my opportunity today,” Pulisic said. “I want to be starting every game. I’m working hard in training. I want to be there. I hope everyone can see that. With moments like this I hope I can continue to make a case for myself.”

He now has four assists in his last six appearances for Chelsea and leads the Blues in the assist category this season.

Does he feel like he’s performing well when he’s on the ball in the final third?

“That’s my job in an attacking role. I’m going to do the best I can to try to get goals and assists. That has been good so far, so I want to continue to push,” Pulisic added.

Blues manager Frank Lampard has said Pulisic will get his chance but admitted the $73 million addition from Borussia Dortmund has to continue to show up in training. Pulisic agrees with his manager and is eager to impress.

“Frank likes players who work very hard and show a lot in training. I want to be a part of that and I just have to continue to do that, be the best I can be in training and just try to earn my position. That’s all I can do,” Pulisic added.

Has it been tough settling in at Chelsea since his summer move from Dortmund and the Bundesliga?

“Culture wise it has been easier than Germany to be honest,” Pulisic smiled. “From the football side of things, I guess you can say that. Obviously I haven’t been getting as many minutes, like you guys said, but I’m just going to keep going and pushing and I know my time is going to come.”

Some reports in England had suggested that Pulisic may move on in January if he’s not a regular at Chelsea, but he laughed that off too.

“I’m not just going to throw a fit and give up. Ever,” Pulisic laughed. “If I’m on the bench it doesn’t mean the gaffer doesn’t think I’m part of the team. It means that’s what it is right now and I’ve just got to keep pushing and earn my spot.”

With plenty of fans on social media asking why he hasn’t been playing and a huge transfer fee hanging over his head, Pulisic is trying to take it all in his stride and focus on getting better while also battling with Willian, Pedro, Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount for minutes.

“This number doesn’t mean anything to me,” Pulisic said of the transfer fee. “Obviously I go out and try to give my best every time I go out onto the pitch. I’m not sure what that price tag means to you guys, but I’m just going to keep trying to perform as best I can for myself and for the team.”

What about the constant chatter on social media and a little frustration from USMNT fans as to why he’s not starting?

“You can’t completely ignore it. I don’t live under a rock. I hear things and I see things,” Pulisic added. “I do my best to block it out. I’m doing my best for myself because the outside opinions don’t matter as much to me as what’s in the team and myself and the people who care about me. I’m just going to keep working and do my best to not worry about it.”

But through all of the ups and down early on in his Chelsea and Premier League career, Pulisic is glad the likes of Hudson-Odoi, Willian, Pedro and Mount are pushing him to get better.

“Competition in the team is only going to make me better. That’s what makes great teams,” Pulisic said. “Guys who are maybe not the second man or the third man, but they are pushing each other in training every single day. That is what a great team is all about.”

Pulisic is contributing for this Chelsea team as they aim to be great and he’s certainly happy to be back on the pitch and getting minutes and assists.

Chants of “USA, USA!” continued as he signed autographs and posed for photos outside St Mary’s and an American fan yelled: “Christian, we love you baby!”

The great hope of American soccer is battling for minutes at Chelsea with a smile on his face.

He is truly embracing the challenge and if he can contribute regularly, off the bench or from the start, he and Chelsea will be smiling a lot more.

In the Mixed Zone with JPW: Episode 1

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NBC Sports’ Pro Soccer Talk lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright shares his behind-the-scenes access into the Premier League mixed zones highlighting the intriguing interviews from this week’s marquee matches.

This week, JPW shares his mixed zone interviews from Chelsea-Manchester United, Arsenal-Newcastle and Manchester City-West Ham.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

To listen to more from the mixed zone with Joe Prince-Wright as he takes you deep inside Premier League stadiums, subscribe to In the Mixed Zone with JPW Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

And you can follow him on Twitter @JPW_NBCSports here.

Click here for In the Mixed Zone with archive ]

Click play below to listen to Episode 1 in full.

Pep reacts to Sterling’s Real Madrid comments

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Man City boss Pep Guardiola has responded to comments from his player Raheem Sterling about their upcoming UEFA Champions League opponents Real Madrid.

Sterling, 25, spoke to Spanish outlet AS and confirmed that he is really happy at Man City ‘right now’ but admitted that Real Madrid are a ‘fantastic club’ and waxed lyrical about their famous white shirt.

“Right now I’m at City and I’m really happy. But I say Real Madrid are a fantastic club,” Sterling said. “When you see the white shirt you know exactly what the club stands for, it’s massive. [Rumours of their interest], it’s something that you see all the time, but I’m a City player and I’m enjoying it at the moment, even if things haven’t gone quite planned in the league.

“We now have a massive opportunity in the Champions League. I keep saying Real Madrid is a fantastic club, there’s lovely weather, but I keep saying that I am quite happy at City. I have a contract with City now and I have to respect this. But it’s a fantastic club.”

The photo on the front of AS showed Sterling with a Real Madrid shirt on one shoulder and a Man City shirt on the other.

Guardiola was asked about his response to those comments and if he thought Sterling, or any other players, would be less committed to Man City given their two-year ban from European competitions.

“Players are free to talk and say what they believe and think,” Guardiola said. “We are not hear to tell them what they think. I am sure about the commitment of our players. They have shown it for many years and nothing changes.”

Sterling has returned to training after two weeks out through injury and he could play at Leicester City on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as Guardiola’s men aim to open up a seven-point gap to third-place Leicester with a win.

Sterling’s comments are complimentary about Real Madrid and given their reported admiration for him for quite some time, the timing of saying this is a little odd given City’s ban from UEFA and so much uncertainty around the future of the club in the Champions League.

Despite Guardiola committing himself to staying at Man City for next season and until the end of his contract in 2022, his players will get plenty of offers to leave if the Champions League ban is upheld. Lionel Messi has joked that Barcelona should “sign the lot of them!” when asked about Sergio Aguero and others signing for the Spanish giants.

Sterling isn’t the first or last Man City player who will be targeted by European giants over the next few months as the situation remains uncertain.

Chelsea: No exact date for Pulisic return; Kante out

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USMNT superstar Christian Pulisic remains out injured for Chelsea and his manager Frank Lampard has admitted the injury is a ‘difficult one’ to assess.

Slumping Chelsea host in-form Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday at Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Blues in fourth place but just one point ahead of Spurs.

N’Golo Kante, who hobbled off in the 2-0 defeat to Man United on Monday, is out for three weeks but the most concerning news was about Pulisic as Lampard revealed he can’t give an exact date on when the USMNT star will be back after his adductor injury which saw him last play on Jan. 1. 

“N’Golo is not fit. A muscle injury, the same as the one he came off with Arsenal with. Should be, hopefully, three weeks,” Lampard said. “Christian Pulisic is still not fit. At the moment I can’t give an exact date. Difficult injury, we are working with that. Ruben is in the squad but not fit to start. Andreas Christensen is fit. He went to get a mask for a broken nose.”

Tammy Abraham has trained the last two days at about ’70 percent’ while it is not expected that Callum Hudson-Odoi will be fit. The news on Kante is particularly damaging as he will miss the UEFA Champions League last 16 first leg against Bayern Munich as injures are piling up all over the pitch.

The good news for Chelsea? Ruben Loftus-Cheek will return to the squad this weekend after being out since May 12 when he injured his Achilles in a friendly against the New England Revolution in a friendly.

That is the only decent bit of injury news for Lampard’s young Chelsea squad.

Chelsea are still in fourth but have won just four of their last 14 games in the Premier League and with Spurs just one point behind them and United three points behind them, the chasing pack are closing in. Tottenham have plenty of injuries with Harry Kane and Heung-min Son out injured but Jose Mourinho knows this is a good time to play against his former club Chelsea.

Injuries to Abraham, Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi are tough as scoring goals has become an issue for the Blues in this poor run of form which stretches back to November.

All season long Chelsea have squandered goalscoring chances and even if the Champions League qualification goes down to fifth place due to Man City’s European ban, they may still miss out. They have been unlucky with injuries this season and missing Kante for a pivotal stretch of the season and the stop-start campaigns for Pulisic and Hudson-Odoi have been frustrating for Lampard.

“Whenever I speak to fans, and this season is a transitional year so we can’t please everybody, but what I’m getting is they’re recognising a team that wants to play,” Lampard said.

Injury news and a lack of goals aside, it is easy to forget this is a very young Chelsea side who have so far exceeded expectations.

A strong finish in the final 12 games of the season, starting with a win against bitter rivals Spurs, is exactly what the doctor ordered for Lampard and Co.

Liverpool’s Henderson ruled out with injury

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Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson has been ruled out for up to three weeks after picking up a hamstring injury.

Jurgen Klopp confirmed the injury, which Henderson suffered in the 1-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid on Tuesday, and that means the central midfielder will miss the games against West Ham, Watford and Bournemouth in the Premier League, plus the FA Cup clash at Chelsea and probably the last 16 second leg at Anfield against Atletico.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Liverpool’s clash with West Ham at Anfield on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Klopp had an update on his captain.

“Hendo, could have been worse, it was a hamstring. He will be out for I think three weeks or so, which is not cool, but how we see it is that we were lucky,” Klopp said.

He also said that he doesn’t plan to rotate his squad as they have almost a full week of rest after their UCL last 16 clash against at Atleti and there are no other injury concerns: “Apart from Hendo, all of the other boys are fit.”

Naby Keita or James Milner would be the obvious replacements for Henderson but it is getting increasingly tough for Liverpool to replace. The England international has taken his game to a whole new level this season and after leading Liverpool to Champions League glory last season he is so close to lifting the Premier League trophy this season.

Henderson is in the conversation to be crowned the PFA Player of the Season with his quality passing, driving runs and incredible workrate keeping Liverpool on track as they aim to go the entire season unbeaten.

With a 22-point lead atop the table, Klopp doesn’t have to rush Henderson back but he’s the kind of character who will pushing hard to bee back as soon as possible.