It is Christian Pulisic who wears the No 10 shirt for Chelsea but in Thomas Tuchel’s system there are two players who operate in that creative position. Both Pulisic and Mason Mount have the freedom to move around the final third, searching for space and pulling opposition midfielders into spaces they do not want to go.
This crucial win for Chelsea was secured by Timo Werner’s first-half goal but so much of their assured performance was based on the scheming duo of Mount and Pulisic, the two playmakers who asked plenty of questions of the West Ham United defence.
With the European Championship looming this summer, much of the focus will have been on Mount’s battle against Jesse Lingard, one of his rivals for a starting position in Gareth Southgate’s side. Lingard had his moments of promise at the London Stadium but, unlike Mount on the opposing team, he did not have a partner in crime.
Mount to Pulisic, Pulisic to Mount. It was a constant theme of this match, especially in the second half, and West Ham were never able to shut them down in the absence of the injured Declan Rice.
David Moyes has built such a solid structure this season, with a unified defence and hard-working midfield, but Pulisic and Mount proved capable of chipping away with their intelligent movement and passing.
In a potentially pivotal match in the race for the top four, the two 22-year-olds were key in destabilising a West Ham team which looked far more sturdy than in recent weeks.
West Ham’s last four Premier League games had produced a combined total of 21 goals between them. They have been the league’s most entertaining team over the last month, providing almost as much drama on the pitch as the ‘Big Six’ have generated off it, but such an approach is far from sustainable in the race for Champions League qualification.
Moyes knows this, and he has made it clear after some of their recent chaotic victories. It has been too open at times, with too much back-and-forth within matches, and it was therefore no surprise that he set up his team in a far more compact formation here.
This was a return to the sort of football that got West Ham into this position in the first place: organised, solid and willing to counter-attack when the chances arose. Chelsea therefore had to be precise in picking their moments, looking for the small spaces that might lead to goalscoring opportunities.
The task fell primarily to Mount and Pulisic, who had started at the top of Tuchel’s midfield “box”. Mount roamed to the right for much of the first half, pulling wide and then darting inside, while Pulisic did the same from the left.
There has been so much talk about Mount this season that Pulisic has flown somewhat under the radar by comparison. Mount’s young age is a frequent source of discussion but he is only a few months younger than Pulisic, who tends to be viewed as less of a developing player and more of a star for the present.
Perhaps this speaks to the way we view football in the modern day, when academy graduates are seen so differently to expensive recruits. Pulisic cost £58m when he joined from Borussia Dortmund, so the pressure has been on him to deliver instantly.
Has he done so? The obvious answer is no, although fitness issues have largely prevented him from enjoying a consistent run in the team until now. This was Pulisic’s seventh start in the last 10 games and there are signs that he is beginning to rediscover the form that made him such a thrilling prospect in Germany.
Pulisic scored twice in the recent thrashing of Crystal Palace and played a key role in Werner’s goal here. Breaking into space again, it was Pulisic who picked out the overlapping Ben Chilwell, who crossed for Werner.
All of Chelsea’s best moments came through Pulisic and Mount in the first half and it was the same after the break. Mount caused problems down the right and almost picked out Pulisic at the back post.
Then Mount shot from range after Pulisic had carried the ball forward, leading to a glaring opportunity which Werner somehow missed from close range. Soon it was Pulisic gliding infield and finding Mount, whose shot was blocked, before the same duo combined again as Mount tested Lukasz Fabianski for the second time.
The main regret for the two of them, and Pulisic in particular, will have been that they did not have more of a material impact on the scoreline in terms of goals and assists. They certainly played a key role in their team’s composed performance, though, and they further strengthened the belief that the future looks bright for this Chelsea side.