For every Chelsea board member, coach and fan, the sight of Kai Havertz delivering a Man of the Match performance against Everton was a welcome one. Undoubtedly talented, the £70+ million investment the Blues made in Germany during the summer had only shown flashes of what was expected.
A confident performance is exactly what everyone at Chelsea needed—everyone apart from Christian Pulisic, that is. London’s very own Captain America, once the sharp end of the attack and a first team regular, struggled to make the same impact under Frank Lampard this campaign and has barely featured since Thomas Tuchel took over. As Chelsea’s No. 10 can barely get on the pitch, an improved Kai Havertz should start to cause the American to grip his shield just a little tighter.
Pulisic has only been at Chelsea for a few years, but he has endured a rollercoaster at Stamford Bridge. His time in west London has been largely exceptional, considering he was tasked with filling the massive void left by Eden Hazard’s departure. Thanks mostly to his creative ability, daring runs and searing pace, Pulisic became a focal point in the team. Then with Willian moving across London, Hakim Ziyech still looking out of his depth most of the time and Lampard unwilling to let Callum Hudson-Odoi free on the wing, Pulisic became Chelsea’s best out and out winger.
To his detriment, his stay in England has been stunted by injuries with a repeat hamstring injury robbing him of a great deal of playing time. For all of the injuries, Pulisic still felt adversity. After initially starting under Lampard, the American was noticeably dropped from the first team and spent a succession of games on the bench. It proved to have a positive effect on the then 21-year-old, who stormed back into the Lampard’s team and dominated. Then another leg injury in the FA Cup Final stilted the American’s summer and looked to have an impact on his mobility and ferocity in attack at the start of this campaign.
With COVID forcing the games to come thick and fast, it gave little time for recovery. Lampard stuck by Pulisic towards the end, possibly re-integrating the American too soon after injury, but with the Blues stuttering, Lampard needed his American star to come back firing. The same faith has not been put in the youngster by Thomas Tuchel. While they have a history from Borussia Dortmund, Pulisic has been making mostly substitute appearances under the German manager, with a growing number of them in the garbage time at the end of the game.
When he has started, or come on with more than a few kicks of the ball left, Pulisic has been inconsequential at best. Pulisic’s 80 minutes against Championship side Barnsley was desperately quiet. While coming on in the 66′ against Liverpool, his impact was so small it made it seem as if Chelsea was reduced to 10-men.
What has gone wrong for Pulisic at Chelsea?
Some of his issues can definitely be attributed to his lingering thigh and hamstring injuries; the American is not running with the same verve or challenging defenders with the ferocity that’s defined his career in Chelsea blue. Yet, with Hakim Ziyech’s form still spotty and Havertz’s continued struggles, there was little reason for the Pennsylvania native to worry. He still had the proven Premier League success in his back pocket and with Hudson-Odoi playing a lot of his minutes in the wingback role, Pulisic looked as if time was on his side to play his way back into form.
The landscape changed with Havertz’s performance on Monday against Everton though. Pulisic did make an appearance, but only in the 90′. Even though Havertz was deployed in the false nine role, that pushed Timo Werner to the right and Hudson-Odoi out onto Pulisic’s favoured left wing. Hudson-Odoi had a good game and Mason Mount came off the bench and excelled, as he always does, all of which should add to the concern for Pulisic.
It is still early in Tuchel’s reign. He has shown he willingness to rotate, so while there hasn’t been all that much of playing time for Pulisic, there is still hope he won’t be frozen out. As if sensing the discord, a string of Europe’s biggest clubs are starting to the linked with the American. However, as Tammy Abraham is currently experiencing, Tuchel will not play you if he doesn’t think you will help the team, and as of late there is little that Pulisic has done to convince him otherwise.
The Blues may be victims of their own immense financial pulling power as the arrival of Havertz and Ziyech only heaped pressure on the wingers already at the club. If Pulisic cannot rediscover his form, he may face a fate similar to Abraham and even look for greener pastures. It seems to be a habit forming at Chelsea with Fikayo Tomori first, to an extent Kurt Zouma, now Abraham and Pulisic. The young guns that powered the side to a top four finish under Lampard are seeing their fortunes reversed.
Chelsea will not want Pulisic to leave the club, and the board would be wise to try to highlight the depth at Europe’s biggest clubs, which may mean that staying in London is his best option. For now, every improving performance from Havertz is slowly pulling Pulisic back from ‘first off the bench’ role he has held under Tuchel. If Havertz continues to rediscover his best form, rest assured, the alarm bells will be ringing in Captain America’s den.