Chelsea attacker Christian Pulisic was back in a starting lineup for the Blues for the first time in three months earlier this week in our 4-0 victory over Juventus, with his last starting appearance taking place in the Blues’ 3-0 win against Crystal Palace.
His absence was mostly due to an ankle injury picked up during international duty with the USMNT in September, taking him out of contention for almost two months.
Since his return from injury in early November, he has been picking up minutes with both club and country, building fitness back up. He decided to take a slow approach to returning to action and while it had been hard being out of contention for so long, the decision is turning out to be the correct one thus far.
“It has been a long couple of months. It is tough to not be able to play and doing what I love and help my team.
“I am thrilled to be back and it is great to be back within the team. I would say, as far as fitness, I am close to where I want to be but that I can still improve and that comes with minutes.
“I played it quite smart in how I came back with not too much too soon. It has been really good and I am happy with the way I feel right now.”
With Chelsea’s main centre-forwards in Timo Werner, Romelu Lukaku and Kai Havertz all unavailable or unable to start against Juventus, Thomas Tuchel decided to give Pulisic the starting nod as a no.9. While he did not pick up goals or assists last Tuesday night, he was a thorn on the side of Juventus’ defenders who had to keep a constant watch on his runs on and off the box.
At first glance, a starting striker not scoring goals or picking up assists will not be as clearly useful as one who does such things. But there is more to goals and assists in centre-forward play as showcased by Timo Werner last season. One can argue Pulisic played a similar role against Juve, with good runs to create space and goalscoring chances for the rest of the team.
“I was in a slightly different role. I am not on the ball as much as I usually am or able to use some of my strengths but I think it is a position that I can play.
“I can create a lot of space for my team-mates and I am happy to play there as well.”
Pulisic started his professional career quite young at Borussia Dortmund, after just one year in their youth ranks following several years in American football academies. And the 4-0 win over Juventus was a night of Chelsea youth showcasing its best, with three goalscorers from Cobham (Trevoh Chalobah, Reece James and Callum Hudson-Odoi) continuing to making a name for themselves in top shelf football.
Most can now see the strength of trusting young and talented players with big roles, as long as they have the right mentality to take their chances. So does Pulisic, having been one of those guys at one point in his career.
“I think we already knew what strengths the Chelsea academy has. It is not a surprise because these guys have been doing it for a while now and we have a lot of good players in this team, a lot of depth and we are happy with where we are right now.”
Not just our former youth rank participants, but also Pulisic contribute a lot to the depth that allows us to perform like a world-class team in the absence of several attacking players. Given how match scheduling in the end of the year is already making victims out of unfortunate injuries, we will need this depth to keep up the championship fight on all of our fronts