Christian Pulisic has had a rough go of things since returning from the short two-week vacation Frank Lampard rewarded the Chelsea team with way back in the summer. The reason for these struggles is unknown. Perhaps it’s the short break or the furious fixture list; maybe it’s the managerial change or lack of playing time; it could even be his extensive injury history. If anybody knew the answer, the issue would’ve been resolved by now.
The American phenom returned to camp with the United States on Monday for the first time in 17 months. On Thursday, he took part in his first USMNT match since 2019, playing the entirety of the first half before being substituted at halftime. A change after 45 minutes would usually worry spectators, but the cause was a reported agreement between U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter and Chelsea. The Blues’ No. 10 didn’t exactly impress during his time on the pitch against Jamaica; nevertheless, the encouraging signs are there.
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Before diving into the performance itself, it’s important to add a bit of context to the situation. Pulisic has spent a lot of time during this club campaign either recovering from injury or sidelined with said injuries. He’s started three matches under Thomas Tuchel—someone he is very familiar with from their time together at Dortmund—and only recently began to look like himself again. Pulisic played 83 minutes in the Blues’ win over Sheffield United on Sunday before joining up with the USMNT on Monday in Austria. Therefore, it’s safe to say it’s been a long couple of days for the 22-year-old.
How did Pulisic perform against Jamaica on Thursday?
Starting the match on the left wing, it took a bit of time for Pulisic to build the chemistry back with Barcelona fullback Sergino Dest. Once they got going, the only person who could stop the pair is their own selves. Dest went on to score a sumptuous goal to open the scoring, but it was much of the same thing from Pulisic as frustration mounted on his face.
The winger put in a similar performance to his showing against Sheffield United. Pulisic took awhile to get comfortable and settled into the contest. A pair of heavy touches saw him give the ball away in possession during the first bit of action he got. However, he eventually found his footing—no pun intended. Pulisic was able to complete some eye-popping take-ons and dribble by Jamaican defenders with ease. While that may not sound impressive on the surface, a lot of the new-look Reggae Boyz come with experience in the European top flight leagues. When it was all said and done, Pulisic’s game largely lacked an end product. As previously mentioned, he had a few highlight reel-worthy moments when he dribbled into dangerous areas, but he failed to get any good shots in.
The disappointment displayed by the young Chelsea winger when coming off at halftime perhaps over-exaggerates his performance a bit. Yes, Pulisic struggled to impact the game as a whole, context is important though.
This is a youngster who has the weight of the world on his shoulders due to the unrealistic expectations put on him by those in his home country. The American enjoyed massive success during the Premier League’s post-restart period, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to be compared to the likes of Lionel Messi. Injuries have taken a huge toll on the Chelsea man this season—that much cannot be argued. Often times, spectators write off players who go through turbulent campaigns resembling Pulisic’s. Nevertheless, there’s still a ton of talent present.
Pulisic has world class potential and no single season will change that. Although he’s only scored two goals and added two assists in 28 total games for the Blues this season, the encouraging signs are there. They were there against Sheffield United, they were there against Jamaica. Pulisic is preparing to play more in the USMNT’s next friendly against Northern Ireland. Don’t expect a hat-trick from the winger, but expect to see a more confident, improved outing.
If Pulisic is able to gain his confidence back and add the finishing touch he’s lacked all season, this international break could give Tuchel and Chelsea a whole new weapon to work with in a few weeks.