Another Premier League match, another zero (0) minutes played for Christian Pulisic. Up 2-0 in the 76th minute, and with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mateo Kovačić having replaced Pedro and Ross Barkley, respectively, Lampard chose to withhold his third substitution until the 84th minute, choosing to spell Tammy Abraham with Michy Batshuayi. It was the third Premier League match — and fourth time in Chelsea’s last five — that Pulisic has failed to get on the pitch. His only appearance was against Grimsby Town in the Carabao Cup.
Not coincidentally, people are noticing. Particularly those from his very large and very loud home country.
After the match, NBC Sports caught up with the languishing lad to ask him about his sudden extended run of bench-warming, and what — if any — directions Lampard has given him to get back into the team.
”Yeah, of course, it is very frustrating, but I will continue to work my hardest because I want to play.”
“Not so much. He [Lampard] said to keep working and I have to improve myself in training and try to get back in the line up.”
These are, of course, the main quotes being splashed around tweets and headlines, but the 21-year-old also revealed some perspective and insight into how he is getting along in a new — and incredibly large — city.
“The city is great, I’ve enjoyed it. It has been good but it has been a change. There are going to be challenges. I knew it was going to be tough coming here. It is never going to be easy. I’ve got to grind out. I want to be back and be a part of the team and help the team win games.
“I want to play as many minutes as I can, that is really my goal, I want to be on the field… It is tough for me right now. I just have to continue to learn. Like I said, I want to be on the field really bad, I have to continue to work and prove myself to be there.”
Pulisic endured a similar rocky patch in his final season with Borussia Dortmund, and was asked if the experience might help him sort out his immediate Chelsea future.
“Of course. In the end I got minutes again and I played well towards the end of the season, so I just have to get my head down and get to work.”
–Christian Pulisic; source: NBC Sports
The situation is certainly a bit strange, as Lampard told Callum Hudson-Odoi exactly what to do to get into the team, and after a couple U23 starts, the teenager is already ahead of Pulisic in the pecking order. In truth the instructions should be the same, but either Pulisic was coy on his deficiencies, or Lampard hasn’t provided a similar concise pathway.
Pulisic can however honestly assess his previous performances if he wants to find things to improve upon. Against Grimsby he was good enough, but also not as aggressive as he should have been. His touches and passes were the fewest of any outfield player, and he didn’t get in space or behind the defense nearly as often as Callum.
There is however another interesting layer. The things Pulisic has shown himself to be good at historically are things Chelsea currently lack. In Pulisic’s best match in a Chelsea shirt, against Liverpool in the Super Cup, he routinely broke through the much-vaunted Liverpool back line. He used his pace and direct dribbling to pick up an assist and nearly bag a match- and trophy-winning goal (ruled offside by VAR).
Pulisic possesses an incredible burst of pace. He loves to attack the box or get to the byline for low-crosses or cutbacks. At the moment, everything for Chelsea flows centrally, and Lampard’s instructions to Hudson-Odoi seem to acknowledge that he wants wingers who can find space in behind anywhere along the back line. Pulisic played as a winger for Dortmund, and plays as a No.10 for the USMNT — he should be excelling under these instructions.
Being patient with Pulisic while he works through these things does not mean the American is overrated, nor that Lampard is practicing English favoritism. (Chelsea have more money riding on Pulisic than Callum, if you want to look at it most cynically.) But the one unavoidable and true gripe with Lampard stating that Pulisic needs time to adapt to a new league, which is of course true of anyone of any age making that transition, is that it’s impossible to adapt to the Premier League without playing in it.
Obviously I am not privy to Chelsea training, and neither is any other external concerned party, and the usual disclaimers still apply — he’s still very young, we’re only seven matchdays into the season, Pulisic is still adjusting to living in London, as well as the increase in pace and physicality, and the step-up in training levels. Hopefully Pulisic does what he says he will do and put in the work to get on the pitch, and hopefully Lampard will do what he says he will do and give opportunities to players who earn it in training. We have enough evidence to believe both will keep their word.