Christian Pulisic scored 11 goals and contributed 10 assists in his debut season for Chelsea. Impressive returns, yet when Frank Lampard describes the American as a ‘work in progress’ you understand what he means.
His second season at Stamford Bridge has been hampered by injury frustrations but Pulisic still offers glimpses of his class when he does play and Chelsea now need him more than ever.
Efforts to kick on after that positive first season in the Premier League have been foiled by recurring hamstring injuries that have restricted Pulisic to just four Chelsea starts and eight appearances in all so far in this campaign.
Christian Pulisic (right) will be hoping for an extended injury-free run in the Chelsea team
The American has spent much of the season sidelined with annoying hamstring problems
With others absent and important games ahead, Frank Lampard will hope to have Pulisic fit
His sliding finish to convert Timo Werner’s cross capped a fine hour on the field in Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Leeds United 10 days ago, after Pulisic had replaced the injured Hakim Ziyech.
But it was followed by another hamstring tweak that kept him out of Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat at Everton on Saturday night after Lampard decided not to risk the 22-year-old winger.
With Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi also absent through injury, it left Kai Havertz playing in a wide position he wasn’t comfortable with as Chelsea lost ground on Tottenham and Liverpool at the top.
‘Christian is a work in progress,’ Lampard said ahead of the trip to Goodison Park. ‘We know his abilities, that’s very clear. He showed them when he came on against Leeds last week.
‘I just have to find the right way to get the best out of him regularly and consistently.’
How the top six in the Premier League looks as we approach the hectic festive fixture schedule
Pulisic slides in to convert Timo Werner’s cross and round off Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Leeds
The American celebrates his second goal of the season in Chelsea’s 3-1 win at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea festive games
Tuesday Wolves (A)
December 21 West Ham (H)
December 26 Arsenal (A)
December 28 Aston Villa (H)
January 2 Manchester City (H)
Lampard has succeeded in assembling most of the pieces of his Chelsea jigsaw this season. Ziyech and Reece James are natural partners down the right flank, Timo Werner is firing in English football, Mason Mount has responded to the competition of Havertz and the defence looks far more solid than last year.
But getting the best out of Pulisic remains a missing piece – for now – and concerns over his fitness are the primary reason.
Hamstring issues are an occupational hazard for players with blistering pace like the American winger.
Short, sharp and explosive bursts of movement are always going to put greater strain on muscles than longer distances at lower speeds. Not to mention being a greater target for the cynical tackle.
Lampard will no doubt use Pulisic sparingly when he can but in the absence of Ziyech and Hudson-Odoi for the next week or two, he will have to be plunged into an unforgiving Christmas schedule.
Chelsea head to Wolves on Tuesday evening, host West Ham next Monday, travel across London to Arsenal on Boxing Day, play again precisely 48 hours later at Aston Villa before hosting Manchester City on January 2.
They would hope to take at least 10 points from the 15 on offer to keep themselves in the title picture but, as with every other Premier League side, the festive period is a real slog that stretches even the biggest squads.
Hakim Ziyech will be out for another couple of weeks after going off injured against Leeds
Callum Hudson-Odoi is also currently sidelined with Chelsea short of wide players
The stats suggest that Chelsea win more of their matches when Pulisic isn’t in their team – but their possession, shooting and crossing stats remain largely unchanged. Courtesy of Opta
Pulisic, who has missed more games than he has been available for this season, will have to play his full part.
But one thing Lampard and Chelsea hope won’t continue is the statistical curiosity that Chelsea’s win percentage slumps from 59.1 per cent to 45.2 per cent when Pulisic is involved.
While their possession, crossing and shooting figures are largely unchanged, they seem to be more successful without the man that cost them £58million from Borussia Dortmund last year.
It can perhaps be explained by the fact Pulisic was in a regular run of starts about 12 months ago, when Chelsea suffered league losses to Manchester City, West Ham, Everton, Bournemouth and Southampton in November and December 2019.
He’s been in a purple patch just prior to that, scoring a hat-trick at Burnley and five goals in three league games, before a torn adductor muscle suffered in January kept him out until the restart in June.
The highlight of Pulisic’s first season at Chelsea came when he scored a hat-trick at Burnley
He also scored the opening goal in the FA Cup final with Arsenal though Chelsea lost 2-1
Encouragingly for the present, it didn’t take Pulisic long to get back into his stride after injury. After the resumption of the season, he scored five goals, including the early opener in the FA Cup final loss to Arsenal, and set up another four.
This season, those injuries have prevented Pulisic from finding any kind of rhythm. He scored off the bench in the 4-0 Champions League win away to Krasnodar in Russia and then against Leeds but largely it’s been a time of frustration and rehabilitation.
Now is his time to shine. Lampard confirmed Pulisic if fit enough to be in the squad for Tuesday’s visit to Molineux. Win that and Chelsea will return to the top of the table.
With Liverpool and Tottenham set to play one another on Wednesday, Chelsea will hope for an Anfield draw that keeps them up in touch though the festive schedule is so packed and unpredictable who knows who’ll be leading come January 3.
What we do know is that Pulisic has the class to have a big say in that particular discussion.