Frank Lampard hailed Christian Pulisic as a ‘top-class player’ after Chelsea’s win over Aston Villa, while insisting the winger was ‘hungry’ to make an impact after so long away from the pitch.
Chelsea marked their return to competitive action following the coronavirus-enforced break in the season by securing a 2-1 away win against Villa on Saturday afternoon.
The result moved Lampard’s side five points clear of Manchester United and Wolves in the race for fourth while closing the gap on third-placed Leicester to just three.
The Blues were made to work for the victory, however, as the hosts took a surprise 43rd-minute lead against the run of play.
Villa had been pegged back in their own half until Kortney Hause bundled the ball into the net following their first meaningful attack of the game.
Chelsea regrouped at the interval and came out for the second period with renewed purpose, but Lampard had decided further inspiration was needed in the 55th minute, as he introduced Ross Barkley and Pulisic to the action.
Pulisic found the back of the net within five minutes of coming on, smashing a pinpoint Cesar Azpilicueta cross into the net at the back post to level the scores.
Olivier Giroud completed the Blues’ comeback moments later, swivelling gracefully in the box before turning the ball home with the aid of a wicked deflection.
Lampard singled Pulisic out for praise post-match, while admitting that it was a difficult decision for him to omit the United States international from his starting lineup.
The Chelsea boss told reporters: ‘He was hungry, I know that and I felt for him. He has trained well. The ability to arrive in the box is a big thing.
‘It is a difference between being a very good player on the flank and a top-class player.
‘With Christian and Ross [Barkley] they both have trained well; I have selection problems, good ones. I had them on my mind to come on early in the second half.’
One man who did make Lampard’s team sheet was Ruben Loftus Cheek, and Lampard was ‘delighted’ to see the England international return to the pitch after 13 months on the sidelines.
‘I am delighted for Ruben to be back in the fold,’ he said. ‘He got in the team on his own merit with working well. In training, he has looked good and strong.
‘We need to give him time to adapt. I thought it was a game for his physicality. There is more to come.’
Lampard added on Chelsea needing to add a cutting edge to their game in the final third: ‘I am really pleased with the performance. Villa had the opportunity to do it one time more.
‘It was new for us. We moved the ball well, dominated but we need to be more clinical.
‘I can give leeway on that because it has been a long time out.’
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