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An early, unfortunate end to Christian Pulisic’s hot summer, first season at Chelsea

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Reflecting on the 21-year-old American’s first season at Chelsea

Arsenal v Chelsea - FA Cup Final Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

We have been celebrating Christian Pulisic for the better of six weeks now, since Project Restart kicked off, captivated by the young man’s sizzling form coming out of quarantine and his adductor injury layoff.

On Saturday, we witnessed Pulisic’s hot summer come to a gut-wrenching, hamstrung end.

2020 wouldn’t have it any other way.

Expectations were always high for Pulisic in his first year with Chelsea, with the £58M transfer fee and the ghost of Eden Hazard looming over him. Initial performances were mixed, as Frank Lampard eased him into the squad.

There were some early highlights, such as his perfect hat trick against Burnley in late October, part of a brief, three-game patch of goal-scoring form. In a way, that was just the amuse bouche for the summer.

Injuries would hamper Pulisic’s availability during the holiday period. By this time, he had proven to be a good enough player for the Premier League — but also an inconsistent one.

Then, something happened over Pulisic’s injury layoff, which also coincided with the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent quarantines. Between debuting TikTok videos and bulking up slightly, Pulisic got his body ready and his mind focused on the remaining games left to be played.

Over the past six weeks, Pulisic has taken the next step, from a player good enough to be in this Chelsea squad, to a player most important to this Chelsea squad. The Pulisic we have come to love this summer has been a different player than the one we saw last fall.

His finishing looked sharper. By scoring five goals in eleven matches across all competitions, setting a new career high in the process, Pulisic has proven to be a key goal scoring threat — an output that could be worthy of all the expectations laid before him. He’s not just battling the comparisons to former club talisman Eden Hazard, but also carrying the weight of an entire nation’s interest in the sport and its burgeoning golden generation.

His body looked as healthy as ever. His bursts of speed to zoom past defenders produced multiple highlights. His ability to stop on a dime and change directions while moving at a face pace and keep the ball connected to his feet had been an absolute joy to watch over and over again.

Over the eleven matches in which Pulisic played this summer, he looked to be precisely the superstar player we had hoped we acquired from Borussia Dortmund.

Which is why Pulisic’s injury in the 49th minute of last night’s FA Cup Final against Arsenal was all the more upsetting.

Collecting the ball around the halfway line, Pulisic saw an opportunity to directly attack Arsenal’s defence and run at goal. You could see the exact moment when he shifted gears ... which was the exact moment that parked his hamstring injury as well. His face contorted into a grimace in an instant, leaving no doubt about the rush of pain in that moment.

Purely anecdotal, but when I experienced a similar injury, the sensation of straining one of the three hamstring muscles felt like a misfiring piston in a car’s engine. Caught in mid-stride, there’s hardly anything you can do, except to let gravity take its place — sending you crashing back down to Earth.

Arsenal v Chelsea - FA Cup Final Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Watching Pulisic bravely and admirably fight through the pain surging through his right leg, to not only stave off two Arsenal defenders, but also attempt a shot on goal is nothing short of amazing. It’s another wondrous act that Pulisic seemingly pulled out of the bag during this six week stretch, where his form has taken him to another level.

As amazing as it was to witness Pulisic push his body past its limits, this is yet another injury setback for the 21-year-old. It’s probably a conversation best left for another day, as we mourn the loss and the injuries to Pulisic, César Azpilicueta, and the departing Pedro, but Pulisic’s body is concerningly prone to injuries.

(Also concerning: the continuing frequency of injuries at the club.)

Pulisic’s season is over, but the real concern lies ahead. With just six weeks to go until the start of the 2020-21 season, there isn’t much time to heal and start getting ready. Hamstring injuries can take a long time and be extra annoying — N’Golo Kanté’s supposedly minor hamstring issue kept him out for the last four weeks, for example.

“I don’t even know, I am afraid. I know that they are hamstring injuries with Christian and Azpi they have to be scanned and assessed over the next few days and they clearly won’t be fit for next week.”

-Frank Lampard, Source: Football.London

While Pulisic’s season started slowly and fizzled out by the holidays, his summer form came on fast and heavy. For six weeks we saw the best of a young star, with our minds left to wonder the heights he could achieve.

Yesterday, we saw his summer (and our season, effectively) come to a sudden, crashing end. We can only hope he will return to this form when he has fully recovered.

Get well soon, Christian!