“I think he is going to be a big player for us, not just in this run-in, but going forward.”Frank Lampard on Christian Pulisic after Chelsea beat Aston Villa in the 2019-20 Premier League.
These were the words Frank Lampard had to say when asked about Pulisic’s brilliant performance against Aston Villa almost two weeks ago. This stellar substitute performance almost certainly gave the young American the nod against Manchester City for the following game.
Again Pulisic orchestrated numerous attacks, effortlessly lulling Benjamin Mendy into a tackle and then breaking away with speed to finesse the ball past Ederson. Pulisic continued his good form into the FA cup fixtures against top 4 rivals Leicester city, constantly dropping deep and running at Roger’s backline with devastating effect.
Despite the West Ham game not quite going according to script, Pulisic had a hand in both of Chelsea’s goals and continued to inspire a lacklustre team void of defensive unity. With 2 out of the four games proving very difficult on paper, Chelsea will be pleased to have claimed a respectable amount of points and qualified for the next round of the FA Cup.
Furthermore, with the in-form American itching to gobble up the metres, put pressure on opposition defences and make up for lost time, Chelsea could have a spectacular finish on their hands, courtesy of the American.
Pulisic vs Villa
The first game back from the break resulted in a number of surprising faces placed into the line up by Lampard. Most notably, Ruben Loftus-Cheek being deployed on the wing, a somewhat unfamiliar position for the English midfielder, but one he took to adequately, considering his injury troubles over the last year.
Similarly, N’Golo Kanté found himself in a slightly new position, being encouraged to display his Makalele-en like defensive qualities when tasked with playing at the base of midfield. Much like RLC, Kanté’s performance was satisfactory given the lengthy break.
Yet it was the Pennsylvanian-born winger that caught the eye of most supporters. Despite Chelsea’s possession-based dominance, Frank’s side were unable to break down Villa and consequently found themselves behind at the break. This is a common situation that the Blues have found themselves in this season (and indeed last year), controlling games yet lacking that killer instinct in front of goal.
However, through Pulisic’s introduction, Chelsea were able to find the creative outlet they craved in the first half. A pinpoint cross from Chelsea’s skipper Cesar Azpilicueta found the outstretched boot of the young American, who flicked it into the roof of the net. The finish was somewhat lucky, which Christian later admitted in the post-match interview, but the run wasn’t. His late drift towards the far-post stretched Villa’s defence, giving him enough time to volley the cross. This goal from Pulisic was born out of his high footballing intelligence, something very difficult to teach.
Pulisic vs City
With Christian’s game-changing performance against Villa, he rightfully started against a Guardiola side looking to do the double over Chelsea.
The previous performance against the Citizens proved promising but ultimately redundant, having played a possession-based game in the previous encounter and losing. Frank cleverly altered his lineup with this in mind. Instead of matching City’s strengths, Chelsea aimed to exploit their weakness by playing a counter-attacking team with two attack-minded number 8’s.
Through the physicality and energy produced by Chelsea midfield, City were unable to find their normal passing rhythm for long periods of the game. It was a slight lapse in concentration that allowed Pulisic to take the ball away from Benjamin Mendy and then tease him into making a challenge which he avoided with a quick burst of pace and cooly slotting it into the net to make it one-nil. A thousand shades of Eden Hazard were eloquently wrapped up in that tidy finish, one that would have been met with an ecstatic uproar from the crowd if there had been one present.
As the game went on, Christian again found himself in between the lines, where he stole the ball from Fernandinho and unfortunately had his effort cleared off the line by a marauding Kyle Walker. The game consequently finished with a decisive Willian penalty giving Chelsea a 2-1 victory. In this game, we were able to marvel at Christian’s clinical nature and blistering pace, unlike the Villa game, where Pulisic displayed his footballing IQ this game was an introduction to his raw physical attributes.
Pulisic vs Leicester
The diminutive winger again started against a Brendan Rodger’s side experiencing a slight decline, having drawn and lost their last two games respectively.
Yet it would prove no easier feat to convincingly beat a side that hasn’t dropped out of the Champions League for some time. With the usual faces being deployed in the cup and some, in particular Billy Gilmour being played in slightly unfamiliar positions, Leicester took the initiative at the start.
Pulisic’s link up with Mount proved fruitfully once again, as both constantly found each other through intricate passes. Christian’s most notable contribution of the first half resulted in a strong fist over the bar from Kasper Schmeichel. On second glance perhaps the American should have gone with placement instead of power, but a valiant effort nevertheless. The second half again proved why Pulisic is becoming a vital cog in the ever evolving Lampard machine. His ability to suck a defender into a challenge and then release the ball for his teammates is beautiful to watch. Tammy was unfortunate to be ruled offside after being played in by a looping ball from the no. 22.
Pulisic vs West Ham
Unlike the game against City, Lampard equipped his team in a more conventional fashion. The only noticeable change to the team sheet was the inclusion of Tammy Abraham who was given the nod ahead of Olivier Giroud.
This game like so many others displayed Chelsea’s lack of defensive cohesion: the likes of Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger’s performances personifying the darker parts of Chelsea season. Both centre-backs lack numerous commonly associated defensive qualities, too vast to write down in this short analysis.
Once again, it was Pulisic who twisted and turned in an attempt to give Chelsea the edge, constantly driving the ball into space causing West Ham a number of problems. A lazily outstretched leg from Issa Diop convincingly brought the American to the ground and won Chelsea a penalty, which was converted by Willian. The second half again showed why the 21-year-old should be the first name on the team sheet going forward, a mazy run was abruptly concluded by a robust foul from Declan Rice, again Willian converted the free-kick. Chelsea may have lost this game, but that was no fault on Pulisic’s behalf. He was of the few players that could leave feeling content with his own performance.
Pulisic is certainly keeping things ticking for Chelsea in attack at the moment and if the likeable winger can stay injury-free for the remaining games, I see no reason why he can’t hit double figures for Premier League goals.
The comparisons to Hazard are inevitable, both have this rich, illustrious dribbling ability able to test any defence. However, Eden was always an artist before a goalscorer, Christian, on the other hand, is not.
Although both display a clear and childlike love for the game, Pulisic appears more ruthless in front of goal. Eden seemed to play the game with a calm, effortless enjoyment, a pass always took priority, whereas Christan operates more directly. The young American’s goal-scoring fanaticism is easy to see, he simply relishes the moment whenever he scores. Time is often the wisest counsellor of all and in the case of Christan Pulisic, the deciding factor of his future success.
By Charlie Castillo
Edited by Jai Mcintosh & Rob Pratley