Hakim Ziyech felt the obvious choice. Not only because Mount was nominally being used on the right of the attack but also because the 28-year-old was in good form ahead of the clash with Palmeiras.
There were just 30 minutes on the clock when Mount left the field and Tuchel settled on Pulisic as his replacement. It was a bold call from the Chelsea head coach.
Pulisic didn’t take up a wide position and instead dropped into the space behind Romelu Lukaku and Kai Havertz. He was more a ten than a winger and tasked with unlocking a resolute and stubborn Palmeiras defence.
Across the 120 minutes that were played in Abu Dhabi, the 23-year-old was the most-fouled player on the pitch. Part of the reason for that is Pulisic’s close control draws challenges but there were also occasions in which he held onto possession too long.
There was also Timo Werner among the Chelsea substitutes – although the German has not played well for some time – and finally, Christian Pulisic.
The 2020/21 campaign has not been an easy one for the American winger. He missed the best part of three months between September and November due to an ankle injury and was forced to fill in numerous positions in December as Covid-19 ravaged the Chelsea side.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs,” Pulisic said in an interview with ESPN ahead of the final.
“I have been on and off playing, different positions, kind of being moved around. It has been a tough ride for me personally, to be honest, but I am just trying to get back into some rhythm, get into the run of things.”
The USMNT star completed 43% of his dribbles, fashioned one opportunity, and came close to breaking the deadlock in the opening period with a shot from the edge of the penalty area. That in itself is a rarity as he tends to do his best work within the 18-yard box.
Pulisic was moved to left wing-back midway through the second period and his influence dwindled as a result. Chelsea also lost impetus in the final third and only found a winner via the penalty spot after an attempt from Cesar Azpilicueta struck an arm on its way to goal.
Mount was able to celebrate another trophy win with his teammates after the full-time whistle was blown but left the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium on crutches.
As a result, there was concern the injury sustained by the England international was serious. However, The Athletic report that while he is set to miss at least two weeks, the injury is not as bad as first feared.
Mount will miss the weekend clash with Crystal Palace and next Tuesday’s Champions League Round of 16 first leg against Lille at Stamford Bridge. He faces a race against time to make the Carabao Cup final against Liverpool on February 27.
As is always the case in top-level sport, one person’s disappointment is another’s opportunity. And Mount’s absence gives Pulisic a chance to force his way back into the side.
He has started just ten games across all competitions this term for Chelsea despite having returned from injury at the beginning of November. The majority of those have also come out of position, either at wing-back or as a false nine.
“I don’t think it is a bad quality necessarily to be versatile but for whatever reason, I haven’t been given the full chance to be in one position and gain some rhythm which is hard at times, which I would like at times, but it is part of the sport I guess,” Pulisic admitted while out in Abu Dhabi.
Even with Mount ruled out, there is plenty of competition for the attacking positions in the Chelsea side. But Pulisic will hope his promising Club World Cup final outing puts him near the front of the pecking order when Tuchel selects his side to face Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The coming months are going to be important for Pulisic and Chelsea. The American will have just two years remaining on his contract in the summer and he has not yet spoken to the club about extending his time in west London.
“No [we’ve not discussed a new contract], I think I’m very focused on what’s going on with the team right now,” he told ESPN. “I’m not thinking about that too much at the moment. Right now, I’m focused on Chelsea and I’m enjoying it. I’m just trying to help the team to win games at the minute.”
Chelsea have seen the very best of Pulisic – his form at the end of the 2019/20 campaign was key to the Blues qualifying for last season’s Champions League – and that is the level he has to return to in order to secure guaranteed starter status.
Mount’s injury has opened the door for Pulisic. He must ensure he runs through it.