Christian Pulisic has a huge week coming up, as the USMNT star will play a key role for Chelsea as they aim to first qualify for, then win, the UEFA Champions League.
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Pulisic, 22, has been in fine form in recent months as Thomas Tuchel’s side have surged into the top four of the Premier League table and a win at Aston Villa on the final day (watch live, 11am ET on USA and online via NBCSports.com) will secure Champions League qualification for next season.
Speaking of the Champions League, Pulisic is also set to become the first-ever American to play in the UCL final next weekend against Manchester City, as he played a leading role in the knockout round victories against Porto and Real Madrid to help Chelsea reach the final.
When asked about the season finale at Villa by NBC Sports’ very own USMNT legend, and Premier League analyst, Tim Howard, here’s what Pulisic had to say.
Pulisic keen to finish second PL season strong
“It is a lot of games but we are used to it. We’ve been doing this for months now. Obviously, disappointing result in the FA Cup, but really happy that we could just put things in our own hands. That is the main thing,” Pulisic said. “This weekend, we go out and we need a good win, and move on from there.”
Chelsea are heavily favored to secure a top four spot on the final day, and after Frank Lampard was fired in January and replaced by Tuchel, the young Blues side have been dominant.
If they secure two top four finishes to go alongside two FA Cup runners up medals and a Champions League final appearance, that has to go down as a pretty decent first two seasons in the Premier League for Pulisic. With plenty of injury issues for him to deal with, he’s had some real ups and downs so far in England.
What does he think?
“It has been a crazy couple of years, for sure,” Pulisic said. “This is always where I wanted to be, playing in the Premier League at an amazing club like Chelsea who have given me the opportunity. It has been special. We have definitely accomplished some exciting things. I am proud of how far I’ve come not just as a player but as a person as well, which people don’t see that side. It has been a big change for me, but I am enjoying it a lot, we have it all left to play for this season and hopefully things go well.”
“The Premier League has made me a lot stronger, physically especially, and also mentally,” Pulisic added. “With all of the games and the constant pressure game after game. It seems like it is a very busy schedule over here. I’ve learned a lot about my body and what to do to try and keep myself healthy as best I can.”
Pulisic praises Tuchel, aims to improve finishing
The American winger also had huge praise for his former manager at Borussia Dortmund, Tuchel, as the former PSG coach has made a huge impact at Stamford Bridge.
Tuchel has turned Chelsea into a defensive juggernaut almost overnight, as their previously porous defense has been one of the meanest in the league and they have beaten the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester City in recent weeks.
“Structurally, much more sound,” Pulisic said of the big change since Tuchel arrived. “Defensively it just felt like we had this feeling about us, as soon as he came in, that ‘okay, maybe we don’t score three goals this game but we can sneak away a 1-0 victory’ and we can be strong and sometimes those are the best wins. I think that has been the main thing. It was hard how it worked out with Frank [Lampard] but sometimes just a little change in the atmosphere in the team, a little bit of something new maybe sparked the guys a little bit.”
Always striving for more, the USMNT star is keen to add to his six goals and three assists across 41 appearances in all competitions this season, and beyond.
What about that does he want to improve specifically?
“How clinical in my decision making and constantly making the right decisions and helping my team to score goals in the small little opportunities that I get, and that I really make the most of them,” Pulisic said. “I think that I’m confident with my dribbling, with my skills and things, and if I continue to just work on those things and become very clinical, I think I can be very dangerous.”
The longer the season has gone on, the more dangerous Pulisic has become.
That is partly down to his injury issues clearing up, but you also get the sense he’s only just getting started at Chelsea.