For the first time in what feels like a long time, things are sailing smoothly at Stamford Bridge. The 2020/21 Premier League season has been tumultuous for Chelsea to say the least, with the most consistent aspect of the team’s play being inconsistency. Since Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard, however, the team has found its defensive spine, playing well-organized and efficient football. Especially following the Blues’ 1-0 win over Liverpool on Thursday evening, there is real reason for optimism.
One player who, surprisingly, has not been able to find his rhythm under Tuchel is Christian Pulisic. The 22-year-old American solidified himself as one of Chelsea’s most important players during Project Restart, scoring five goals and providing four assists in 11 matches. He also featured prominently before the managerial change, but has yet to play a full 90’ since.
Many Chelsea supporters, myself included, have been shocked at Pulisic’s lack of game time with Tuchel at the helm. The two worked well together in the past, with the German tactician handing Pulisic his senior debut at Borussia Dortmund back in 2016. He made 12 appearances and scored twice during that season, not a bad return for the then-17-year-old.
Tuchel also oversaw Pulisic’s breakout season in Germany that took place the following year. The skillful winger took the Bundesliga by storm, becoming a stalwart on the right flank of an exciting Dortmund side that managed to snatch a rare trophy, the DFB-Pokal, from Bayern Munich. Pulisic was particularly adept at assisting his fellow forwards, notably Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembele, setting up 13 goals and scoring five of his own.
The duo’s past success begs the question; what has happened to Pulisic since Tuchel became manager? There are a number of possible answers, but two stand out above the rest.
First, Tuchel’s insistence on giving every member of the squad a chance to earn playing time naturally leads to more competition within the squad and subsequently, less match time for each player. Pulisic is contending with the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi for a spot in the first XI, so it is understandable that he sees less action than he did in the past. Assuming Pulisic remains a part of Tuchel’s rotation after this testing period is over, he should be contributing on the pitch more regularly.
Additionally, Pulisic is clearly not fully recovered from the muscle injury that kept him out for a number of weeks early in the season. Even under Lampard, the Blues’ No. 10 was not impacting the game as he usually does. Muscular problems can be particularly annoying because of their tendency to flare up from time to time, and with the Blues’ busy recent schedule, Pulisic could have easily had a setback that the club kept private.
As an American, I cannot hide my desire to see Pulisic return to his best at Stamford Bridge. He is a hero to all football cough soccer cough fans in the United States, and him playing well for Chelsea has definitely had a positive influence on the game as a whole. His recovery of form would also be massive for the Blues, who are in desperate need of goal contributions from the attacking line. Supporters need to stay positive, though. Tuchel has gotten the best out of Pulisic in the past, and he will again in the near future. It is only a matter of time.
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