And what has Willian and Pedro done to be picked ahead of the American?
I chose this image of Christian Pulisic in action for this article… for a very specific reason.
Against Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup last month, Pulisic showed signs to the Blues’ faithful as to why the club forked out £57.6m for the 20-year-old winger from Borussia Dortmund back at the start of the year.
Besides N’Golo Kanté’s simply incredible solo performance, Pulisic was very much the next, best player on the pitch for Frank Lampard’s side. Creating the opening goal for Olivier Giroud, great work rate, helped with defensive duties… Pulisic was a nightmare for Liverpool. They did not have a moment’s rest and it was safe to say that Joe Gomez especially did not enjoy coming up against the American in Istanbul.
Team-mates, pundits and fans alike all agreed that ‘Figo‘ (as nicknamed by his Father Mark) clearly had what it takes to become a success at Stamford Bridge and is more than just than a marketing ploy to grow the club’s profile in the U.S., as much as the sceptics assume that to be the case.
After the Liverpool game, Pulisic put in decent performances against Leicester City, Norwich City and Sheffield United. Nothing special to make people wax lyrical, but nothing shambolic either. Decent. Which is fair and completely understandable to expect as he continues to adjust to English football and adapt to England in general.
Then the international break comes. Pulisic heads back to the States to represent the USMNT and despite the Americans suffering a 3-0 defeat at the hands of bitter rivals Mexico, Pulisic is praised for standing out amongst everyone for his individual effort in the game.
And with Chelsea in-mind, Head Coach Gregg Berhalter does not pick Christian for the 1-1 draw against Uruguay and instead lets him return back to Cobham ahead of schedule so that he’s ready for selection by Frank Lampard.
Since then… nothing. Literally… nothing.
After sitting out the 5-2 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers, many just assumed it was for squad rotation/tactical reasons by Lampard, which would be fair enough. But then when he wasn’t picked for the 1-0 loss to Valencia in the opening game of the Blues’ UEFA Champions League group stage after being overlooked for “more experienced options”, some fans – including myself – started to feel whether the selections of either Pedro or Willian were justified for the ‘right’ reasons.
Then came last Sunday.
With Mason Mount suffering (at the time) what looked like to be a horrible ankle injury after a reckless challenge from ex-Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin and was forced off in the defeat against the La Liga side this time last week, we all expected Mount to miss out against Liverpool.
Pulisic was everyone’s choice to be brought back in to play in the forward line and hopefully give the Reds as many problems as he did in Turkey a few weeks before.
But inexplicably, Pulisic was once again ignored for selection as Lampard decided to take a huge gamble and play Mount instead, even though it was clear to see that he was nowhere near 100% fit. With it effectively backfiring.
“I have a squad to pick from, I decided to go with Mason today. These are my choices to make. Christian is a young player as well. His chances will come. There are people on the bench.”Frank Lampard on choosing Mason Mount over Christian Pulisic in the 2-1 defeat to Liverpool
Now I can accept (to an extent) that Pulisic was not brought on at the very least during the game due to the freakish situation of losing both Emerson and Andreas Christensen to injury before half-time. But to not be chosen to begin with? I don’t see the logic in Lampard’s thought process there to be perfectly honest.
And quite frankly, so do quite a few Chelsea fans too.
It can be easily argued and debated that there are as many as four issues right now surrounding Pulisic and his recent lack of selection in general…
THE MOUNT vs PULISIC DEBATE
Let’s get this straight out of the way – I don’t have an issue with Mount and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by his input so far this season.
And with this said, I feel that the Mount > Pulisic and/or Pulisic > Mount debates that have appeared on social media over the last few days are completely irrelevant. Why? Because they don’t play in the same position, despite Mount’s inclusion as a narrow left-winger in the last couple of games.
Mount playing there is only due to the likes of Hudson-Odoi being recently injured and more notably, Ruben Loftus-Cheek still being sidelined. Whilst Pulisic can play in the ‘number ten’ role (or even as an attacking left-central midfielder as it has been shown whilst playing for the US in the CONCACAF Gold Cup earlier this summer), the wide-forward is much more productive from either wing, predominately more on the right-hand side as it showed during his time in Germany with Dortmund.
Thankfully, both youngsters – Pulisic being only four months older than Mount – have contributed enough (three goals in eight games for Mount/two assists in five appearances for Pulisic) at this point in the season to justify being in the squad/starting XI when selected.
So instead of continuing this pointless, fabricated debate that does neither player any good, we should in fact been focussing our attention and energy on…
PULISIC vs PEDRO/WILLIAN
If we’re going to compare players, then we should be comparing players that play in the same position. So this means comparing Pulisic to both Pedro and Willian.
This is where, in my opinion, the reasons as to why Pulisic has not been selected lately simply don’t add up. As I mentioned earlier, it’s fair and understandable to say that the performances from Christian have ranged from brilliant to decent. But nothing bad, poor, etc.
And by contributing in a positive manner with some assists and a couple of good performances, we should be encouraged by what Pulisic has provided so far on the pitch and should continue to back him, support him and want him to be playing consistent so we get to see (hopefully) the potential that is definitely there be fulfilled.
As for the veteran duo of Pedro and Willian – questions need to be put to Lampard on why they continue to be chosen ahead of Pulisic. Despite the odd few bits of positive football against Wolves and Valencia respectively, Willian is definitely not putting man of the match performances. And after his good performance in the Super Cup, Pedro’s last couple of games have been shocking to put it politely. Simply put, neither is going to get any better, whereas Pulisic will.
Someone who feels the same way is ex-Liverpool player Don Hutchison.
“If I was Frank, I would play him. He has to play. He’s a sensational player going forward. Willian’s not pulling up any trees at the moment.Don Hutchison on Christian Pulisic
“I think Christian Pulisic is a better player.”
Along with the fact that neither the Spaniard or the Brazilian has contributed (in a combined 609 minutes of football) a single goal and/or assist between them so far this season, it makes you wonder as to how Lampard can continue to overlook Pulisic for the other two. Especially when it’s plain to see that they are both on a drastic decline.
And we haven’t even mentioned Callum Hudson-Odoi yet in the winger comparison discussion. Speaking of CHO…
NO CONSISTENCY IN CALLS FOR CHO/PULISIC TO PLAY
This is an interesting point that hasn’t been highlighted that greatly within the media or the Chelsea fanbase in general.
There’s no denying the genuine talent that both Hudson-Odoi and Pulisic both already have and we hope that they both fulfil the enormous potential they have in them. For me at least – when both fully fit – they should be our starting wingers in the attacking frontline (along with Tammy Abraham as our main centre-forward for this season at least).
But after a couple of pre-season displays last season, certain fans were almost screaming blue murder every time when previous Head Coach Maurizio Sarri did not choose Callum for the first-team starting XI.
If this is indeed the case, where’s this same energy for Pulisic this season then during the last three games Lampard has not picked him? Barely an eyelid battered with some. Instead, it’s “he must be doing something wrong.”
Right to be questioned? Yes, in my opinion.
LAMPARD’S QUESTIONABLE DECISION MAKING
Another potential issue (and not just Pulisic-related but in general) is the questionable choices and selections from Lampard as of recently.
It has been mentioned and argued that Lampard is not playing Pulisic consistently at the moment due to the 3-4-3/3-4-2-1 formations he is currently using. But for me, that still doesn’t make sense as Pulisic could quite easily play in either system – be it in the ‘attacking 3’ of the 3-4-3 or in the ‘2’ of the 3-4-2-1.
As mentioned earlier on in the article – Willian and Pedro both played against Valencia, ahead of Pulisic, due to their “experience”. So are we just forgetting the fact that he already has 22 appearances in Europe’s elite competition? Playing against the likes of the Madrid giants of Real and Atlético?
Kyle Martino, a former United States international, believes that he’s more than ready for the big stages.
“Remember that this is a player who has played in massive games against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, where he has delivered. This is a very experienced player who was tossed into World Cup qualifying by Bruce Arena and ended up being one of the best performers despite having had no experience with the national team.”Kyle Martino on Christian Pulisic
As for picking Mount over Pulisic for Liverpool – no idea as to why that was seen a good call by Frank. Risking a player so early on in the season with an injury like Mount suffered could have been catastrophic for (thankfully it was not). But it was obvious that he was not even remotely close to being fit.
I could understand John Terry being risked for the 2007 Carling Cup Final, days after suffering an ankle injury of his own in the Champions League against Porto. I most definitely understood Kanté being risked for last season’s UEFA Europa League Final as we were literally down to bare bones in the midfield due to injuries.
But Mount being risked for a league game in September? Makes no sense to me, what-so-ever.
At his age, Pulisic needs to be playing. If he’s not getting consistent game time, then his development will be stunted and we won’t get to see him fulfil his potential. People might react with “it’s only three games”, but what if he doesn’t start against Grimsby tonight?
If that happens, then there’s something up, that’s for certain.
At Dortmund, Pulisic had to compete with the likes of Ousmane Dembélé, Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho for a starting spot. At Chelsea, it’s currently Hudson-Odoi, Pedro and Willian. I could understand the competition Pulisic faced at Der BVB. But down at Cobham? He’s clearly a better player than the two 30-plus-year-old wingers we have.
Callum on the left (LW), Christian on the right (RW). Simple. With this, it would ensure for the first time in over a decade (since the duo of Arjen Robben and Damien Duff) that Chelsea have a pair of wingers both playing on their favoured flanks.
People want the future… well the future is now. And a part of that is these two, talented young wingers playing in tandem.
Will Christian need time to adapt to the Premier League and English football in general? Of course. But the best way to do that is by playing regularly.
As much as we’re looking forward to the return of Hudson-Odoi and the much-anticipated first-team debut for Reece James, Pulisic has to play against Grimsby tonight. No excuses. He cannot become a victim of circumstances.
‘Captain America‘ might be seen solely by some as a signing by Chelsea to reap the rewards of the American soccer market. But if he’s given a genuine chance to play and develop, the potential that is clearly there to see will be fulfilled.
To become the player we all think he can be. And he’ll be then loved not just by fans across the States, but by fans down at SW6 too.