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Alan Smith column: In-form Christian Pulisic has pace to unsettle Manchester City in FA Cup clash

Alan Smith
·5-min read
 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Well, whatever Leeds can do, right? It might not, of course, be quite as simple as that. Last week’s shock win for Marcelo Bielsa’s team may just have come at the right time for a Manchester City side still on course for a quadruple.

If that imperious performance against Borussia Dortmund is anything to go by, the defeat to 10-man Leeds delivered a timely reminder of the dangers lurking when you take your eye off the ball for just a second.

Thomas Tuchel can vouch for that, having seen his previously unbeaten Chelsea side concede five goals to West Brom. But, just like Pep Guardiola, the German coach seems to have quickly steered the ship back on course in time for two huge semi-finals.

This one, undoubtedly, does not measure up to the Champions League version, but victory tomorrow over an outfit that could rightfully be described as the best in the world just now would work wonders for the belief of those players in the Chelsea dressing room.

Plenty of them are on form, too. Christian Pulisic, for one, seems to be peaking at a fantastic time. So far at least, it has not been the best of seasons for the US international but that does not matter, not when all the important bits are still to come.

His searing pace and direct style could easily cause problems to John Stones, by no means the quickest defender out there. Backed up by Mason Mount, the absolute definition of consistency, Pulisic is capable of creating a few waves. With this in mind, I reckon Kyle Walker’s speed will be used as a deterrent.

And then we come to Kai Havertz, a player I said needed time in this column last week, who promptly burst into life at Crystal Palace to suggest his elegant, languid game could also cause problems.

Without seeming to do too much, Havertz is one of those players who can instinctively find space in a crowded area. Add that to his very capable feet and Tuchel might pick him again for that withdrawn central role, a tactic used by Guardiola many a time.

Chelsea, you would imagine, will have to score a couple because, for all their defensive solidity under Tuchel, it is difficult to see them shutting City out completely, not when Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden are carrying the fight with such thrilling chutzpah.

This is where the vast experience of Thiago Silva comes in. Chelsea need their best defender on top of his game, organising and covering when those sky blue shirts start swarming around. Not many time a tackle better than the Brazilian, a skill that should be regularly needed on Wembley’s wide pastures.

It is going to be tight — that looks fairly certain — but there is too much first-class talent for it to be boring.

Everton vs Tottenham (Friday, 8pm)

Only those in the group know what the mood is truly like, but too many whispers leak out to think the atmosphere is healthy.

That being the case, it is difficult to see how Tottenham can make real progress until that situation changes. But can it under Jose Mourinho? You would be right to feel sceptical. The only way to improve things is by winning games, and plenty of them, starting with this duel against another European hopeful. Everton were really poor at Brighton on Monday.

Manchester United via Getty Imag
Manchester United via Getty Imag

Despite all their injuries, you would have expected more in such an important contest. Mind you, the same sentiments could apply to loads of Spurs matches, last week’s home defeat to Manchester United being the latest.

As such, it is difficult to predict how this will pan out. Neither set of players looks especially motivated just now. An extra slice of enthusiasm might win the day.

Newcastle vs West Ham (Saturday, 12:30pm)

They just keep on going. When you thought Declan Rice’s absence might tell, West Ham overpower Wolves with three first-half crackers. Then Michail Antonio drops out to leave the team short in attack and another three goals see off Leicester.

Jesse Lingard, of course, has played a huge part. But this is very much a team effort from David Moyes’s lot. Jarrod Bowen, Tomas Soucek, Craig Dawson — they are all producing the goods to keep those improbable Champions League dreams very much alive.

Getty Images
Getty Images

The only negative is the way opponents have been allowed to fight their way back to give the manager palpitations. The Hammers cannot keep scoring at this rate.

If his side do go ahead at St James’ Park tomorrow, Moyes will be demanding much better concentration because Newcastle, inspired by Allan Saint-Maximin, threaten to end the season well.

Arsenal vs Fulham (Sunday, 1:30pm)

There are bound to be changes to the vibrant Arsenal line-up that took Slavia Prague apart last night. Mikel Arteta might think, for instance, about resting key players, which means omitting Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, the youngsters sprinkling much-needed stardust on this mid-table team.

With or without them, Arteta will not want to see any drop in standards. It is now about maintaining momentum for the Europa League. It is also about building for next season, when big improvements will be expected.

Scott Parker might not be properly thinking about next season just yet, not until survival becomes impossible. But being a realist, Fulham’s young manager knows that another tough campaign in the Championship probably awaits. You would hope that the club sticks by Parker for that. You only have to look at high-flying Norwich under Daniel Farke to see the value of sticking with a good manager.

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