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Lampard: Pulisic must ‘work to show’ he deserves to play for Chelsea

Meritocracy in action

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Chelsea Pre-Season Tour to Japan - Day 3 Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

Christian Pulisic started four of Chelsea’s first five games of the season — and was one of the best players on the pitch in the first of those, against Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup — but he’s made just one appearance in our last six games, and in the last of those, against Lille in the Champions League, he wasn’t even picked for the bench. It’s not exactly the trend we might have imagined after Chelsea dropped nearly £60m on the kid from Hershey, PA.

Pulisic’s plight has caused much consternation among the US sah-kerr media, with episode after episode of Overreaction Theater playing out on NBCSN or ESPN or any other media outlet that had been banking on US Soccer’s great big hope to drive their Premier League coverage this season. Considering we’re barely two months into the season, it’s been a bit ridiculous, even by football media standards, and even if some of that noise does get attenuated by the Atlantic Ocean as far the rest of the coverage is concerned.

But Frank Lampard has had to increasingly defend and explain his choices regarding the 21-year old, who seems to be the one and only youngster not reaping the benefits of Chelsea’s youth revolution. But for the Chelsea head coach, it’s a simple matter of rewarding hard work in training.

“He’s as young as all the young players we keep talking about. He’s just turned 21. So I think if anyone is getting too excited about this they should calm down because he’s started five games for us and what he needs to do is work, work daily, work to show within the group that he deserves to play.”

Cynics will point out that Lampard has had no reservations about giving minutes to any of the homegrown youngsters — 1814 all over again! — but on any given day, there are only eleven starting spots at his disposal and every player wants to be one of those eleven. And at a team like Chelsea, even a transfer-banned Chelsea, the quality that’s present throughout the squad creates situations were good players end up not playing.

“This is one of my difficult problems in this job. I have good players and everyone has a story.

“Christian Pulisic has a price tag. Ross Barkley is an international player, Mason Mount is an international player, Callum Hudson-Odoi just signed a new contract, Bayern Munich wanted to buy him last summer. He’s an international player. Ruben Loftus-Cheek will come back and be an international player. I can’t pick them all and be in the game, unfortunately. All I have to demand of them is that they show me in training and show me that they are worthy of the place.

”And that’s not to show that I’m a hard taskmaster. It’s just my job. Next week you might be asking me about two other names. It’s the competition that we have.”

-Frank Lampard; source: Telegraph

Lampard has preached meritocracy since day one. His own playing career was defined by success through hard work, and that’s what he’s expecting from his own players as well. While he knows what it feels like to not get picked when you want to play, at the end of the day, the decisions he makes are to give his team, and himself, what he thinks is our best chance to win.

Case in point is Fikayo Tomori, who was not part of the first-team picture in preseason or at the start of the season, but thanks to the departure of David Luiz, he stayed with the team, and then thanks to his own dedication and hard work in training, he put himself into Lampard’s reckoning. While it surely helped that Lampard was already familiar with and reliant upon Tomori from last season at Derby County, the youngster — just like all the others — still had to put in the hard minutes on the training ground to get his chance.

“Sheffield United at home was a game I thought [Tomori] deserved the opportunity after how he trained. That’s a great message to all the players. How you train will relate to whether you get picked. Those are the rules here. You have to train at a level, and he trained so well over a period of time he deserved to play.

“He gave me a big problem because he played so well and he’s continued to do that. He is a project in a way but a nice one because everything you want him to do, he stands up and delivers.”

-Frank Lampard; source: Chelsea FC

Tomori has won his place and it’s up to the others now to challenge him and potentially unseat him — and minutes in that department will get even scarcer once Antonio Rüdiger returns as well.

Similarly, Pulisic has plenty of quality ahead of him to contend with. He knows that, and he knows what it will take. Now he just has to convince the manager.

“He’s level. I spoke to him two days before the Grimsby game and was very clear about the standards, and we have to give him the fact that he’s moved country and moved leagues.”

-Frank Lampard; source: Telegraph

It’s a long season, with a ton of games, and therefore plenty of minutes up for grabs. Pulisic has shown throughout his young career already that he’s willing to put in the work, the effort, and the dedication to win his place, and we know he has the quality to do so. It might take a little bit, or it might take a long bit — it once took Branislav Ivanović, one of just eight overseas members of the Chelsea 300-appearance club, the better part of nine months — but we surely haven’t heard the last from Pulisic just yet. Not by a long shot.

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