From the moment Christian Pulisic broke through a move to the Premier League appeared to be written into his destiny. Of course, Pulisic broke through at Borussia Dortmund, making a mark at Bundesliga and Champions League level, but with so many English clubs interested it never seemed likely that he would stay in Germany for long.
Destiny hasn’t counted for much since Pulisic pitched up at Stamford Bridge this summer, though. With Chelsea bound by a transfer embargo, the American, who was technically signed in January but loaned back to Dortmund for the second half of the season, was Frank Lampard’s only addition ahead of the 2019/20 season. It was therefore assumed that he would be a key component of the rebuild.
Pulisic, however, has found himself on the peripheries of things so far this season. The 21-year-old has started just three of Chelsea’s seven Premier League fixtures and was left on the bench for the full 90 minutes of the Blues’ 2-0 home win over Brighton on Saturday. Americans who have placed so much stock in Pulisic being the country’s first soccer superstar are starting to panic.
Of course, it’s still early in Pulisic’s Premier League career. Lampard is also still finding the right formula as Chelsea manager. The problem for Pulisic is that Lampard has edged closer to the right formula by dropping Pulisic from his starting lineup. With Mason Mount, Willian and Pedro all playing so well the youngster might to wait his turn.
“I’ve got four wingers to choose from, now they are all fit,” Lampard explained when asked why Pulisic has fallen down the pecking order in recent weeks. “Christian, I think we all forget, has just turned 21, because of the price tag, because he came through at a very young age. It’s very normal to expect there to be an adaptation period and that’s what he’s in.
“He’s showed some really good moments in pre-season, some good moments at the start of the season. We must give Christian a bit of time to adapt because of his youth, change of league, the change of living, we support him in all of that, and his talent will come through.”
The problem for Pulisic is that he’s not producing in the final third as consistently as some of his teammates. Pedro is averaging 2.7 key passes per game, while Mount is averaging 2.1. Ross Barkley is even averaging two key passes per appearance. For context, Pulisic is producing just one per game. On top of this the American is averaging just one shot a match - the same as Antonio Rudiger and Kurt Zouma.
Lampard has done his best to change the culture at Stamford Bridge so it’s possible that Pulisic will be given longer to prove himself than previous Chelsea youngsters. As a £58 million player, the most expensive in the Blues’ history, more is expected of the American and he could soon find himself in an unescapable spiral.
Look at how Alvaro Morata failed to find his groove as a Chelsea player. The Spaniard had proved himself at both Juventus and Real Madrid, and has since become a key figure at Atletico Madrid, but something about Stamford Bridge kept him down. What is most worrying for Pulisic is that his poor form isn’t just isolated to this season.
A large part of the reason Dortmund were so open to selling Pulisic was that he wasn’t even a first team figure for them at the time of Chelsea’s bid. Indeed, it’s been a while, maybe as long as a year or 18 months, since Pulisic lived up to his own billing. It was therefore always unrealistic that he would hit the ground running. Like so much else at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea must look at the American as a project.