Christian Pulisic’s first season at Chelsea wasn’t exactly the unqualified success of our wildest dreams, but the young winger still managed to collect 11 goals and 10 assists in 34 appearances while battling growing pains and inconsistent form early in the season and an abductor tear halfway through. The 21-year-old truly came into his own during Project Restart, inspiring the team to a fourth place finish with four goals and four assists in the last nine games of the season.
It was the sort of form that not only got him a succession of Man of the Match awards, but also stake his claim as the next owner of the Chelsea No.10 shirt, an honor that head coach Frank Lampard was more than happy to bestow on the young American.
“I wanted him to have it because I felt like he deserved it and he wanted it.
“He came last year and Willian was almost the man in waiting at the club to take the number 10 shirt and I think it was right he took it with his experience. When it became open I think what Christian delivered in his first year more than warranted that he gets the shirt and what it means. I know it means a lot and there will be a few in that line to try and have that shirt but I was keen for him to have it and very pleased to actually make the call.
“I called him, as he was home at the time, and I could sense he was happy and I get the sense now it’s another little push up for him where he can hopefully feel confident that he’s here, he’s number 10, the responsibilities that come with that and I’ve got no worries with Christian.”
Regardless of shirt number, Pulisic will have his work cut out for him, just as every new and every old member of the squad will as well. And after two straight seasons affected by injuries, he’ll have to stay healthy and fit in order to contribute consistently. That’s a challenge not just for him, but for those who pick the team.
“He’s hungry and the only thing we have to continue to do is manage him because he’s so fast and the way he plays, we have to manage and try to come away from those big injuries he had last year. That’s something we’re working on. We all know what a fit Christian Pulisic can do.”
Pulisic’s season ended with a hamstring injury as Chelsea lost the FA Cup final, but he’s made a fairly quick recovery in about six weeks and is in contention to feature in today’s season opener at Brighton.
“He’s trained with us the past couple days so I suppose I’ll have to be a little bit careful going in to Brighton, I’ll see how he is right up until that game because he had quite a serious hamstring injury and his recovery has been pretty quick.
“I think last year, I had every feeling that Christian was going to come here and be a huge player for the club. I knew his talent, saw it very early on in his time here and it became a big talking point around the club when I didn’t start him earlier on in that season. I genuinely felt it was to give him time to adapt to the league...so I tried to protect him.
“All he wants to do is play and play well for this club. I’m excited that this season he’s going to improve even more. He’s come back looking really hungry. He will only improve with the players we’ve brought in in those forward areas.”
Whether Pulisic plays today or not, he could be on the verge of a truly outstanding season surrounded by all the other glittering talent Chelsea have in attack.