From the moment he broke through at Borussia Dortmund as a teenager, Christian Pulisic has been burdened with the weight of expectation. For years, decades even, American soccer had waited for its first true superstar, a face to stick on a billboard, and in Pulisic they saw a talent who could become that figure.
That expectation is unlikely to get any lighter any time soon with the 20-year-old now a £58 million ($73 million) Premier League star having signed for Chelsea in January, joining up with his new teammates over the summer. Pulisic might already be a face recognisable enough to stick on a billboard, but his career trajectory still hasn’t topped out.
The American has endured a rough start in England, though, with many already questioning his role at Chelsea. Left on the bench for the opening weekend defeat to Manchester United, Pulisic has since started three games in succession, notching an assist in the away victory over Norwich City.
That, however, is Pulisic’s only win as a Chelsea player so far. The 20-year-old impressed in the European Super Cup loss to Liverpool, providing an assist for an Olivier Giroud goal, but he has failed to build on this, demonstrating a lack of cutting edge and final product in games against Leicester City and Sheffield United.
For those who watched Pulisic last season, this surely hasn’t come as much of a surprise. The 2019/20 campaign was a difficult one for Pulisic. He found himself replaced in the Dortmund team by Jadon Sancho, the English teenager who usurped Pulisic as the most exciting young talent in the Bundesliga.
Indeed, Pulisic notched just four goals and four assists in the league last season. Given that he only started nine games and was brought off the bench in 11 matches, that isn’t the worst ratio, but the lack of rhythm affected the American and it would seem on the basis of his early season displays that he is yet to full recover.
Of course, it’s possible that Pulisic has been dragged down by a team struggling to find its way under Frank Lampard. On the flip side, however, it could be argued that Pulisic has been a factor in Chelsea’s poor start to the season. An immediate impact was expected from the £58 million signing and that hasn’t materialised.
Things won’t get much easier for the Stamford Bridge club after the international break - Chelsea will travel north to take on Wolves before an away game against Valencia in the Champions League and then a clash with Liverpool on September 22. Pulisic will be expected to find top form to guide his team through this testing period.
So far, Lampard has used the American on the right side, where has played for the majority of his career. However, it’s possible that Pulisic could be deployed through the middle. This is a role he has performed for the US national team and Chelsea could do with his drive through centre of the pitch, with Mason Mount drifting out to the left.
Over time, Lampard might switch his default 4-3-3 formation to a more orthodox 4-2-3-1. This shape may suit Pulisic better, especially if there is scope for him to drive inside and open up space in and around the penalty box. Right now, however, America’s first footballing superstar is struggling to find his place at the top having been tipped for it for so long.