German Thomas Tuchel knows Christian Pulisic better than just about any coach.
Tuchel, who coached him at Borussia Dortmund, started Pulisic only four times in the first 16 games -- 11 wins, one loss and four ties -- since replacing Frank Lampard as Chelsea manager in January. The lack of playing time raised questions about Pulisic's future at Stamford Bridge, but Tuchel remained confident in the 22-year-old American.
“I feel him stronger and stronger, more self-confident," Tuchel said ahead of Saturday's match at Crystal Palace, "and he can be a decisive factor in the next game with his speed and ability to dribble, and his ability to arrive in the box in dangerous situations, and balls from the side, and crosses he has the feeling to arrive and score.”
Sure enough, Pulisic scored twice from close range to lead Chelsea to a 4-1 win over Palace, a big turnaround after its 5-2 loss to West Bromwich Albion a week earlier.
Pulisic, whose two goals matched his output in Chelsea's first 30 Premier League games, scored in the West Brom loss before exiting at halftime with a hamstring issue, and he hit the woodwork in Chelsea's 2-0 win at Porto on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League. That came after he scored for the USA in its 2-1 win over Northern Ireland.
Chelsea's four goals were double the most it scored in a game under Tuchel as it had been grinding out wins over the last three months: six 2-0, four 1-0 and one 2-1.
“You think I gave the wrong messages the last 15 games, and I gave the right one today?" said Tuchel. “You have to take it match by match."
Competition for playing time at Chelsea remains tight as Chelsea had German Timo Werner and Dutch-born Moroccan Hakim Ziyech, who have been playing ahead of Pulisic, as well as French World Cup champions N'Golo Kante and Olivier Giroud available on the bench.
"It will always stay a team effort," Tuchel said. "We do everything together and nothing changes in that message."
Pulisic, who now has scored five goals in 31 games in all competitions in 2020-21, admitted it's been a tough season.
"There has been a lot of things going on this season," he told the BBC afterwards, "but I will work hard to do my best in any way I can. I was happy I was able to do that today.”