Captain America is back! USMNT star Pulisic reborn again at Chelsea

Christian Pulisic Chelsea 2020-21Getty Images

It was at Wembley Stadium in August that, ahead of kick-off in the FA Cup final, it felt like Christian Pulisic had truly arrived in English football.

A run of 10 games since football's post-lockdown restart saw him return four goals and four assists, as the United States star belatedly launched his Chelsea career.

Now, the stage was set for him to make his mark on a showpiece event.

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But despite opening the scoring against Arsenal, that day instead proved the beginning of another long battle for Pulisic to prove himself in west London.

A serious hamstring injury suffered early in the second half ruled him out of action for two months, and his 2020-21 campaign has, at best, stuttered along after four further fitness set-backs.

But as he returns to the national stadium on Saturday for Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, Pulisic is beginning to show the form that many believed would help him become Eden Hazard's long-term successor at Stamford Bridge.

Since the return of domestic action following March's international break, Pulisic has been back to his explosive and confident best.

Three goals in his last two Premier League games were then backed up by a superb performance against Porto in the Champions League on Tuesday, as the Blues booked their place in the competition's semi-finals for the first time in seven years.

Christian Pulisic Chelsea GFXGetty/Goal

The USMNT captain was fouled 11 times at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in a display that harked back to Hazard's glory days, when he would be kicked from pillar to post by opposition defenders.

"Yes, it felt like I took a lot of fouls out there today, but overall I am pretty healthy and good to go," Pulisic told Chelsea 's Fifth Stand app after becoming the first player since Lionel Messi against Real Madrid in 2011 to win that many free-kicks in a Champions League game.

The final part of that answer will be music to Thomas Tuchel's ears, as the ex-Paris Saint-Germain boss will need everyone fighting fit as he aims to plot his way towards success in three competitions during the final weeks of the campaign.

"I think for Christian Pulisic, fitness is always important. He has this huge physical impact because of the number of sprints and the amount of intensity that he can give to a team at the highest level," Tuchel said when asked about the winger by Goal last week.

"This is one of his biggest strengths. The other thing is he needs to feel confident and calm mentally, and then he can be a huge weapon for us.

"I feel him stronger and stronger, more self-confident and he can be a decisive factor with his speed and ability to dribble, as well as his ability to arrive in the box in dangerous situations.

"Hopefully, he can have that impact. It is our job to push him there and to calm his mind so that he feels the trust and feels confident."

That trust in Pulisic seems to have returned for Tuchel, who knows the 22-year-old well from his time in charge of Borussia Dortmund.

Christian Pulisic Chelsea quote GFXGetty/Goal

Back then, Pulisic was used predominantly as an impact substitute, and he was given the same role during Tuchel's first months in charge at Chelsea.

He went through a two-month spell during the winter when he did not start a league match, and when he did, he found himself playing at wing-back against Leeds United.

The recent international break could not have come at a better time for the poster boy of American soccer, and it was clear during their Europe-based camp and friendly wins over Jamaica and Northern Ireland that he felt far more at ease around familiar faces.

Having been re-energised following his time with Gregg Berhalter's group, he returned from the break early so as to ensure he would hit the ground running for Chelsea upon the rest of the squad's return.

Tuchel took notice, and the pair now seem to be singing from the same sheet once more.

"I am pleased with the way I am playing," Pulisic said after the Porto clash. "It hasn't been an easy season by any means, for me and as a team. But I have worked really hard to get to this point and I am feeling good right now."

Pulisic feeling good is bad news for City. Last season the £58 million ($80m) signing stole the show as Chelsea put the final nail in City's coffin in terms of their Premier League title defence, the 2-1 loss at Stamford Bridge confirming Liverpool as champions.

Now the hopes of Pep Guardiola's side winning an unprecedented quadruple are on the line at Wembley.

Pulisic must hope this visit to play under the arch does not end the same way as the last.