When it comes to the performances of Christian Pulisic in the EPL this season, football fans and observers are quickly falling into two camps – the hype train and the haters.
By Greg McKay
For folks on the hype train, Pulisic’s hat trick against Burnley last weekend was evidence of the American’s quality in the attacking third and that he deserves to play a bigger role for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea. For the haters, such as ESPN FC senior writer Mark Ogden, Pulisic’s positive contributions don’t even warrant considering him on the path to a regular spot in Chelsea’s first team.
The truth, as it often does, lies somewhere firmly in the middle. In fact, Pulisic’s time at Chelsea is going better than expected and it has nothing to do with his recent hat trick. After years of growth at Dortmund, Pulisic’s ability to break into the first team and his development had somewhat stalled in his last season. At Chelsea, on the other hand, he has found a competitive environment with a manager who not only believes in giving younger players a chance but has had his hand somewhat forced by a FIFA transfer ban.
For U.S. Men’s National Team fans who, with shorter memories than baboons, argue Pulisic is already the greatest American male player of all-time, the reaction to Lampard’s failure to find time on the field for Pulisic was met with almost apocalyptic groans. Those same fans, though, were often quick to criticize the likes of Donovan, Bradley and Jozy for returning stateside, rather than challenge themselves in Europe.
The reality is that Pulisic is in a competitive team, ripe with young attacking talent, and the pressure to perform and earn his place can provide the catalyst for further development of one of Europe’s top young players. With that situation comes the fact that when a team is doing well with a certain lineup, it is difficult to force oneself into the starting eleven. Pulisic, to his credit, did just that with dynamic substitute appearances and, when given the chance, a real statement making performance against Burnley.
It wasn’t just the fact that he scored three goals against Burnley but really the manner in which they came about. Where in other games Pulisic has looked deferential to his teammates, he showed a single-mindedness in driving at the Burnley back line that suggests he is catching on to EPL football. On his first goal, it was after he lost possession in midfield that he fought doggedly to win it back and punish Burnley on the break.
In Lampard, Pulisic is playing for a manager who has proved in his nascent career that he will put trust in young players, whether that be when just missing out on promotion at Derby County or with one of the giants of English football, Chelsea. More importantly, Lampard seems invested in the development of Pulisic. He has spoken positively of the American’s willingness to join up with Chelsea after only a one week break in the summer and the important qualities he sees in the attacker. Lampard has, however, stressed patience and that part of the reason for holding Pulisic back has been the limited break the player had between seasons.
Playing Under Lampard
When Pulisic found playing time difficult to come by in a string of Chelsea games, commentators stressed Lampard was not the manager who brought Pulisic in and he may not have the same confidence that Sarri had in the young talent. The truth is that Pulisic is likely much better off under Lampard as it is clear in interviews that the Englishman rates the Pennsylvania native, though is taking a long-term view on his development.
Last, Chelsea are in the unenviable position of facing a FIFA transfer ban meaning that Lampard must make use of the players at his disposal. Lampard’s willingness to give young players a real run in the squad is at least partly out of necessity. If he is to keep Chelsea competitive for a Champions League spot, Lampard will need significant contributions from the players in his team under the age of twenty-three.
For those on the Pulisic hype train, the reality is his hat trick against Burnley, while a stellar moment for a twenty-one year old player barely seven games into his EPL career, does not mean he’ll be an automatic inclusion in Lampard’s squad for any more than the next competitive match.
On the other hand, views like those from ESPN FC’s Mark Ogden are equally foolish and reflect a throwback to the old days of bias against American players in England. Against a stingy Burnley squad, Pulisic showed the quality and desire that will put him in the conversation for becoming a first team regular under Lampard.