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Pulisic & the new Chelsea: Why Abramovich excited again

COMMENT: What a way to introduce yourself to your new boss. If first impressions matter, then Roman Abramovich surely has a new favourite player. That first 45 from Christian Pulisic couldn't have gone any better...

Two goals and a penalty won. All before halftime. And all before his new club's owner. Abramovich following the squad from the US to Austria to witness last night's victory over RB Salzburg. The billionaire leaving the Red Bull Arena surely convinced the £58m paid to Borussia Dortmund in January was money well spent. As Frank Lampard, the Blues manager, highlighted in the aftermath, seeing Pulisic's name on the scoresheet barely told half the story. It was the manner with which he took both goals - and won his penalty - which suggests Chelsea's scouts have this one right.

In just a short sound grab, Lampard pulled it all apart perfectly. Pulisic, for his first, drifting in centrally before taking responsibility and firing home from outside the area. Then only a few minutes later, winning the spotkick thanks to power, pace and some deft control - all requirements needed for any attacking player to succeed in the Premier League. And following Ross Barkley's successful penalty, the pick of the show reel: Pulisic - again working the inside-left channel - collecting at full speed a raking diagonal pass from Barkley before clipping his effort over Cican Stankovic in the Salzburg goal.

"He [Pulisic] showed his quality," declared Lampard in the aftermath, "and I love the nature of his goals where he has an intention to run behind the line and not come short - and the finishing was good.

"A winger has to have the desire not just to be tidy but to be getting in behind people and then with his quality he can be a really big player for us."

Pulisic looks primed and in-synch with his teammates. The brace a just reward for cutting short his summer break so to join up with the squad in Japan. That leadership and approach which has seen him wear Team USA's armband at 20 years of age now working to Chelsea's benefit.

Indeed, in the same week Pulisic is starring in Salzburg, Eden Hazard, the man he's replaced, was being accused of arriving at Real Madrid "a stone overweight" amid criticism of his role in the 7-3 horror show against Atletico Madrid. Hazard will improve. And there'll be better days for the Belgian. But Pulisic has given himself - and the Blues support - every chance to make Hazard a distant, though positive, memory.

Added Lampard, "He is a big signing for us with big potential but the big question is he has to adapt to a different league, but I have seen already a really good attitude and a willingness to listen to information."

The decision to delay his arrival until the summer now making sense. Chelsea were hammered for not insisting Pulisic join them in January when terms were settled with BVB. The official word was that BVB demanded he stay to season's end. But it was actually the player's choice not to move midseason. Pulisic was concerned he wouldn't do himself justice dropping into Cobham with no preparation behind him. First impressions and all that...

Significantly, Wednesday night was not your usual preseason stroll. Yes, there'll be tougher opponents ahead for Lampard's team. But in terms of the tempo of the game, the snap to both teams' play, it was a couple of gears higher than what we've seen from Chelsea this summer. And they weren't found wanting.

It's been a good summer for the Blues. Even with the transfer ban, it's difficult to recall a better offseason for the club in recent years. Joe Cole, back at Cobham coaching with the Academy, has dubbed it a "cultural improvement". A Chelsea culture that didn't need to be ripped up and rebuilt. But one that just needed a few adjustments. Which is something we're now witnessing at the beginning of this Lampard era.

Cole is part of this shift. As is Petr Cech, the club's new technical adviser, Lampard and his No2 Jody Morris. There's been a conscious, concerted push to add and maintain as many ex-Blues in positions of responsibility as they can. Lampard even insisting Carlo Cudicini stay on after his role with Maurizio Sarri's backroom staff. The Italian joining the loan management team - a not insignificant job at Chelsea. There was also an effort to convince Gianfranco Zola to remain involved. Lampard had his own staff, but still could see the value of Zola's input. Only ambitions to again manage saw Lampard's plans turned down.

But there is a shift. New faces. Newly created positions. A new way of playing. And with that, a fresh energy that is sweeping through the club.

An energy typified by Pulisic's performance on Wednesday night. Two goals and a penalty won. Is it any wonder, after the absence and all the doubts of last season, Abramovich is again following his team around the globe?


Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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