Christian Pulisic has a way of timing his runs. Not just into the box – but over a campaign.
Long-term, the key is to reproduce this kind of form over an entire campaign. To prove he can shake off the muscle and hamstring problems that have troubled him – and live up to the reputation that convinced Chelsea he could help fill the void left by Eden Hazard.
In the short-term, if he can provide the contribution he has over the past week between now and the end of the season, he will add a thrilling new dimension to Thomas Tuchel’s attack.
A goal against West Brom last week was followed by two in this 4-1 win against Crystal Palace.
In between, he was millimetres away from finding the back of the net as a late substitute against Porto midweek when hitting the woodwork with a vicious drive.
This is what the American can do when in full flight.
He can hypnotise defenders with his dribbles and catch out opponents when playing off the shoulders of full backs.
But a less heralded quality is the timing of his runs and his movement in and around the six-yard box.
The way he darts to the near post is like a classic No9. It is something Chelsea have lacked this season, something Timo Werner has not been able to provide often enough.
His finishing, meanwhile is explosive – as his first half goal proved – firing high into the near post corner.
Pulisic’s form upon the resumption of last season’s Covid-disrupted campaign was vital during the run-in.
It was a major factor behind Chelsea securing a top four finish – his injury in the FA Cup final a major reason behind their surrender to Arsenal.
He scored five goals in their last 11 games of the campaign – including the opener at Wembley before going shortly after half time with the scores level.
At his best, he is a game-changer – and that is what he is beginning to show again in what is his best run of form this term.
It was notable that Tuchel opted to leave him on for the full 90 minutes – perhaps to give him the confidence in his body, perhaps in the hope he would complete his hat-trick.
Or maybe it was simply a case of allowing him to build on his relationship with Kai Havertz, who he narrowly stole the headlines from.
With Mason Mount completing this attacking trio, Chelsea looked as threatening as they have at any point under Tuchel.
It is their biggest win under the German – and the first time they have scored more than two in any game since he took charge.
That is what he will find so encouraging from this win.
The movement and creativity of his forwards deserved a wider margin of victory.
Havertz – playing as a No9 – might have at least a hat-trick himself, rather than just his opener, which set Chelsea on course for three points after eight minutes.
Mount, too, might have got on the score-sheet for the third game in succession.
Instead, he turned creator for Kurt Zouma to score Chelsea’s third in between Pulisic’s two.
Cutting edge has been the missing link for Tuchel so far – but with Pulisic in this mood, Chelsea might just have found it in the nick of time.
Havertz experiment works
Some of Chelsea’s best attacking displays under Tuchel have come with Havertz in the central role. That was the case again here.
His goal was reward for an impressive performance leading the line when his movement contributed to a host of chances created by the visitors.
He will know he should have scored more than just the one – but this was performance that gives Tuchel something to work on.
Kurt Zouma’s fifth goal of the season makes him the leading scoring defender in the Premier League this term.
Considering he has largely been a spectator since Tuchel’s arrival, that figure is even more impressive and perhaps points to an attacking weapon they have overlooked under the German.
At a time when goals are so hard to come by, they could do a lot worse than try to exploit Zouma’s aerial threat from set pieces.