Birmingham (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Frank Lampard believes Christian Pulisic can be Chelsea’s trump card in the race to qualify for the Champions League after his decisive cameo inspired Sunday’s 2-1 win at Aston Villa.
Lampard’s side were rocked when Kortney Hause put Villa ahead against the run of play in the first half.
But Pulisic came off the bench to equalise after the break before Olivier Giroud bagged his fourth club goal of the season two minutes later.
Chelsea’s quick-fire blitz moved the fourth placed west Londoners five points clear of Manchester United in fifth as they fight to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
A first away league win of 2020 was the ideal way for Chelsea to return to action in their first match since the Premier League was suspended in March due to the coronavirus.
It was Pulisic’s first appearance since January after an abductor muscle injury and Lampard feels the United States winger is ready to make an impact again.
“He will start games for us, of course, and I think he’s going to be a big player for us, not just in this run-in but going forward,” Lampard said.
“He was hungry. I know that and I felt for him, as I felt for the players with long-term injuries.
“The ability he’s got to arrive in the box, it’s a big thing, I’ve spoken about it with him all season.
“It’s the difference between being a very good player off the side, an attacking player, or the players at the real top level of the game that arrive and score in the six-yard box and hit numbers yearly.
“I really think Christian can do that, so I was really pleased with him, the impact he made when he came on.”
Villa’s failure to hold onto their lead leaves Dean Smith’s second bottom team one point from safety with eight games left to avoid relegation.
“Unfortunately a little bit of quality and fortune favoured them. The thing we have worked on during the pause is being tougher to beat and we have become that,” Smith said.
Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek was making his first Premier League start since May 2019 after recovering from a serious Achilles tendon injury sustained during a friendly in the United States.
Loftus-Cheek, who had been close to full fitness before the lockdown, nearly marked his return with a goal when he headed just wide after powering past Tyrone Mings.
Lampard says his recent signings of Ajax playmaker Hakim Ziyech and Leipzig striker Timo Werner will put pressure on Chelsea’s youngsters to be more consistent next season.
With that message in mind, he picked Giroud up front instead of Tammy Abraham, keeping faith with the French veteran after his impressive form before the hiatus.
Mason Mount, another of Chelsea’s breakthrough stars, did start and the midfielder tested Villa keeper Orjan Nyland with a stinging long-range drive.
– Inspired move –
Villa took a shock lead in the 43rd minute.
Douglas Luiz chipped a delicate cross over the Chelsea defence to Anwar El Ghazi, whose shot was pushed out by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
With Chelsea’s defence slow to react, Hause alertly flicked home from close-range for his first Premier League goal.
Cesar Azpilicueta headed wide from Willian’s cross early in the second half and moments later Lampard sent on Pulisic and Ross Barkley in a bid to ignite Chelsea’s spluttering attack.
It proved an inspired move as Pulisic equalised in the 60th minute.
Azpilicueta whipped over a cross from the right and Pulisic arrived at the far post to guide a half-volley into the roof of the net for his first goal since November.
Two minutes later, Chelsea’s comeback was complete.
Mount and Giroud exchanged passes to open up the Villa defence before Azpilicueta picked out Giroud, whose shot on the turn deflected off Conor Hourihane on its way past Nyland.
A slip by Andreas Christensen gave Jota the chance for a late equaliser, but the Villa substitute dragged his shot wide.