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The doors are closing on Christian Pulisic

Photo by Paul Rudderow

Is Christian Pulisic ready for the Premier League?

If I was skeptical when I posed this same exact question back in January, man, am I skeptical now. It’s not just that Pulisic, a Hershey native, isn’t playing — it’s that all of his teammates are flourishing. All the other forwards on the Chelsea roster that he’s competing with for time are bagging goals or impressing coach Frank Lampard. We’re over six weeks into the Premier League season and, right now, Pulisic is not even close to the top of the depth chart. How did we get here?

When news first broke of his Chelsea move, it was honestly a little puzzling. Not necessarily because of his ability, but because even at Borussia Dortmund, he had begun to lose out to Jadon Sancho for playing time. Couple that with missed time due to injury, and it certainly wasn’t perfect timing to sign for one of the world’s biggest clubs. Ultimately, though, I brushed it aside because of the Chelsea situation: a transfer ban, a manager on the hot seat, stars on the way out, etc., etc. It seemed like an opportunistic time for the American star to christen his name on soccer’s biggest stage.

Nine months later, though, and it hasn’t made the slightest difference.

What some people may not realize is that Lampard didn’t buy Pulisic. The record-breaking fee of $73 million dollars wasn’t his money. He was just another name on the roster when he took over the job. Sure, he was a young American and, sure, Lampard “liked” him, but he wasn’t even hand picked. He didn’t have a relationship with his manager like Mason Mount and didn’t have any Premier League experience. He just had a big price tag. Except, at Chelsea, it’s not even that big.

Simply put, Lampard doesn’t owe Pulisic anything. Especially not when the club lost a final last month and is already 0-1 in the Champions League. Especially not when his seat is rapidly warming because they’re in 11th place in the Premier League and behind Sheffield United. Lampard doesn’t have time to worry about price tags or big American storylines. He’s fighting for his own job and if Pulisic isn’t good enough to make the XI, so be it.

Problem is, he’s not even seeing the pitch at all. Before Wednesday’s cup match against Grimsby Town, he hadn’t made an appearance in almost a month — three straight matches riding the bench as an unused sub. It’s one thing to get beat out by Mount or Callum Hudson-Odoi or other young guns, but when a 32-year-old Pedro is coming off the bench before you in a meaningful match, it is not a good sign. You don’t just sit a marquee signing for the hell of it. If Pulisic is good enough for Chelsea, he’s not showing it in training.

“But he looked good and had an assist on Wednesday!” 

If you are seriously using an assist against Grimsby Town to justify playing time at a big six Premier League side, you don’t follow the league. It’s an insult to Pulisic to say that it should earn him a starting job. Ross Barkley, Pedro, and Hudson-Odoi all scored in the match — he’s hardly gaining any ground.

And don’t forget that Willian has been injured. Don’t forget that if they weren’t banned, Chelsea would have almost certainly signed another star to replace Eden Hazard. That’s what they do. It may seem encouraging that Lampard is throwing the Mason Mounts and Tammy Abrahams of the world into his XI, but make no mistake: Chelsea does not have time for youth development. They will sack their coach in a heartbeat and re-sign an aging David Luiz before they sit around and wait for a prospect to pan out. There is simply no evidence to suggest that Pulisic will succeed in that type of environment.

The sad reality is that Chelsea is world soccer’s biggest loan factory. They’ll give you a shot or two and then ship you away if you aren’t good enough. It’s not always a bad thing, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing for Pulisic, but it’s not an option anyone would want to entertain. Does it really seem so farfetched at this point, though? If January rolls around and nothing has changed, why shouldn’t Chelsea loan him out to a club that comes calling? Do we really think Lampard would hesitate to do that?

Think of it this way: If Pulisic can’t earn a starting spot at Chelsea when a new manager is rotating 18 year olds into the lineup during a transfer ban, when will he earn a spot? When they’re back in the top 4 and sign a mega star from Spain?

It was supposed to be a seamless transition, but the harsh truth that no one (myself included) wants to hear is that Pulisic may not be good enough for Chelsea right now. It doesn’t mean he’s not good enough for the Premier League, but it does mean that this big move may very well end in disappointment. It does mean that his opportunities are dwindling.

Sometimes, it doesn’t even matter if you’re good enough.

58 Comments

  1. Excellent article. I was very concerned about the move and recall writing about it on this website when it happened. Could not undertand it for this player and quite frankly, all things being equal based on my limited understanding, this is the first real tactical mistake by him and his handlers.
    .
    Christian needed a lateral move…what’s a lateral move from Borussia Dortmund? In my opinion: Villareal, Lazio, Roma, Marseille, Lyon type club. Somewhere he would get almost 3,000 minutes a season and have multiple opportunities in Champions League, likely knockout round or two and be an important piece of that puzzle for that type of team…
    .
    …THEN as a 24 or 25 year old just entering his prime make the BIG club move. Head scratcher. Now we just sit and wait to see what happens to America’s Golden Boy.

    • First time I heard Sarri say he didn’t even know who Pulisic was, I worried. Now, under a new manager, he’s not in the plans. Maybe he’ll luck out and be sold (Chelsea can still sell, right? They just can’t bring anyone in?) But now he’s a bit stuck with that high transfer fee that I’m sure Chelsea will not want to lose money on. It’s tough.

      I think he’d be getting playing time at all the clubs you mention and, unlike a Southampton or Bournemouth in the PL, those clubs will be playing in European competition.

    • Hard to disagree with your line of thinking el P. I’m not sure Pulisic has his complete game yet. At a time and age where his motor should be non-stop, he tends to coast at points. He doesn’t really have the talent to be able to get away with that. He needs to be out-working his competition at the very least, especially if he’s not producing. He still needs to grow and mature, and the prospects of him getting that opportunity at Chelsea look dim. I’d expect a loan at this point, unless there are injuries in the squad.

    • Honestly buddy, that was one f***ing good comment.

      His path might be similar to salah and de bruyne.

      Throw Ajax in as a club he might’ve played for

    • You are exactly right. I agree 100%. His handlers erred badly on this one. Let’s see him move to another club ASAP, get on the field, and resurrect this career. Two years of riding the bench behind other teens is not going to cut it.

    • Disagree with this one El Pach, Dortmund is better than all of those clubs right now……and they have experience and success with young players. If it was between BVB and those clubs, I’d have him stay at Dortmund.

  2. Pulisic is good enough for the PL, but Chelsea was a bad move IMO. As mentioned in the article, it is a young player loan factory that is quick on the trigger with coaches – not exactly the best situation for a young player looking to break into the next level.
    .
    Granted, it is worth keeping in mind that Abraham and Mount have both had loan spells in England before this year and Barkley was not playing much immediately following his transfer to Chelsea. Leagues in England are different then those in Germany and will take time to adjust, but agree with the concerns that Chelsea might not be patient enough for that. It is still early though.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    Honest question: Would he do better at an 18-19-20th place EPL team or a Championship side team? Totally agree Chelsea was not the place for him. I think most people thought that when it happened. I think I remember hearing that at the time Chelsea signed him, Sarri didn’t even know. That’s never good.

    • Possibly, depends on the manager and play style for me. I think Pulisic still needs a good deal of coaching. If Rafa was still at Newcastle, that would have been a nice spot for him to land. Maybe with Eddie Howe at Bournemouth. Granted these are more mid-table then bottom of the league, but I think Pulisic’s all around game needs to be shaped. His offense is there and I think if given time would settle in. I don’t think he’s going to find that at Chelsea.

  4. What portion of Chelsea’s thought process was, “He could be great, and in the meantime will help us sell more jerseys in the US”?

    • I think this was a big part of it, and may be a reason why they aren’t quite so quick to send him out on loan or sell him than if he was from South Africa or Africa.

  5. This seems more like a PR move for Chelsea to grab US eyes and jersey $$ unfortunately. Lampard inherited the squad, but even Sarri didn’t know that he was getting Pulisic until the deal was done. Sure it was a ton of money, but you never want to go to a team if the coach doesn’t even know you’re coming.
    .
    This will be a good test for Pulisic though. Hopefully he fights through it and starts getting minutes. Otherwise, at least he’ll learn some things along the way. I sincerely hope that it doesn’t turn into a lost year for him. That is not what anyone needs right now.

  6. Maybe he can be one of the better fiats in MLS.

  7. Chelsea will have plenty of games in which Pulisic can show what he can do. The main thing for him is not to get frustrated, to work hard and to make things happen while he is on the field. This is an excellent test for him that should make him ultimately a better player than if he had made a lateral move.

  8. Chelsea is one of the toughest locker rooms to survive in, in Europe. I was worried for Christian heading to Chelsea, Klinnsman even said so…and he’s all about young Yanks cracking their teeth abroad. Cheslea’s Old gaffer, Sari before Lamps didn’t even know who he was! LFC was a better fit teaming back up with Klopp, IMHO. It was cryptic what Lampard said two weeks ago…….he said “it’s good having a healthy Willian back to 100%”……guess where Pulisic plays? Willian is awesome, it will be tough to crack. He’ll have chances to show, but it may still not be enough to flourish there. Christ, Mohammed Salah sat at Chelsea….under a different gaffer, but same Chelsea story. I just hate having to watch friggin Chelsea to what Pulisic is going to do! GOONERS!!!!!

    • He couldn’t even maintain a spot in the starting lineup of a team in the German league. It’s no surprise he wouldn’t success in England. Maybe he’s a better fit in one of the lesser leagues such as the Dutch league, but even then, he is not a physical player and he’ll struggle due to lack of skills (compared to top skilled players like Salah or Son).

  9. Bill Gardner says:

    Bad fit for Pulisic. Watching him in the league cup match made it clear he can’t find space when they are keeping possession in the opponents box and is being knocked off the ball too often. I was shocked it was Chelsea he went to, but remember Kevin Debrune and Mo Sala both got shipped off by Chelsea before they became what they are now. It had to be the money he signed for no other reason to go to Chelsea, know he is paying for it. He should get out asap he is not going to get the time on the pitch he or the USMNT needs to progress. He also needs to gain another 10 pounds of muscle, or go play in Spain where everyone doesn’t get stuck in and there is space to play and skill players are looked after by the refs. If he stays and plays I will be happy but I cant see that happening at the moment.

  10. Yeah didn’t like the Chelsea move at all when it happened..but how many times as he made a great run or a nice pass for a one two run and hasn’t been rewarded..Same thing was happening at Dortmund great run great pass didn’t get rewarded..someone else would get the goal instead of him

  11. A January loan to a lower tier Premier League team is exactly what he needs. It will be a good career move.

    • Exactly right. Or to a competitive top half of the table team in another league. It’s not inconceivable that he could eventually get back to a top tier club like Chelsea some day, but he’ll first have to get minutes and produce at another club. He’s going to languish at Chelsea this go around and needs to get out ASAP.

  12. “the doors are closing for Christian Pulusic says reused-golf-club-salesboy”….. This article will only serve to make his next goal sweeter!!! Four!!!!!

  13. the day he failed to track back to support Azbilequeta when he was getting skinned for the second goal during their comback was where he angered Lampard.

    • That’s spot on, Pulisic needs to become a more complete player, gone are the days of “he is young, etc” granted he is young but with his experience at Dortmund, his Champions League experience and price tag many expect more. During the Grimsby match Reece sprinted past Pulisic to get into position after a failed overlapping run, Pulisic was coasting back, that’s happened often and with Lampard speaking daily on desire and heart of the academy prospects, Pulisic lack of hustle is going to kill his chances. He isn’t a Salah or a top winger yet, he doesn’t have that luxury where teams offset his defensive responsibility due to his offensive production. I’m afraid it’s still happening in training as well. Pulisic needs to realize he has to work and work harder than anyone out on the training pitch…get stuck in and hustle in both directions, he is 21yo he has the energy to do that. In my opinion if he wants minutes, that’s what Lampard is looking for. His offensive talent is there, they want him to show his heart and stamina. Chelsea will not wait much longer for Pulisic to get it and until he does he won’t get the minutes he wants at any top club.

  14. Terry Bellinger says:

    All of what I see here is why the US soccer has gone backwards 20 yrs. Why Mexico is destroying us when we should be easily beating then now. 10 minutes watching the USMNT and Pulisic is the best US player on the field. Period. The problem with Chelsea is the prejudice against him being an American. The beginning with Chelsea he played great with Barkley and Mount and the othersand did prove himself. And i’d say better than Willian! So yes he needs to find a team where his ability will be appreciated instead of challenged every second. The focus on him by media is mostly negative as ie a bad pass where others get the positive a good try. In terms of the USMNT They can either play Pulisic and find other high skilled and vision players like him or keep getting pounded with their unskilled highly praised terrible players and keep moving backwards. Oh and the negative focus on Pulisic ” the doors are closing on Pulisic” Did you put the same headlines when Altidore scored 2 goals in like 28 games over there? He got a free ride and 100% positive support! And sorry but there are players better than him even Pulisic up in that spot would be better!

    • Yes, the cabal has gotten Pulisic good hasn’t it? Those evil English and their dastardly ways! I wonder how many times a week they get together to figure out how they can screw Pulisic that week without it being too obvious? I noticed during the second home match that his side of the pitch hadn’t been watered, pre-match and at the half! How dare they! Will they stop at nothing!

    • There was no English prejudice against fantastic US players like Clint Dempsey or Captain Brian McBride. Just look at other top players from countries of lesser rank than the US fluorishing and dominating in PL–Son Heung Min or Mohammad Salah.

      • Salah flamed out at Chelsea at a younger age (but was still older than Pulisic now), then went out Fiorentina and then Roma before returning to the PL at an older age

      • The English style is direct. Pulisic is an indirect player with fantasic vision and quick stealthy releases. I do tire of his static positioning along the sideline, but that is because he wants to stay in his lane to fit in. I’d love to play with a Pulisic over most players. Oh, I wish he’d goto to a team like Barcelona. Unfortunately, his defense lacks.

      • Egypt is actually pretty good, they run AFCON and have some darn good players. They would probably kick the US’s asses right now……and if you have never scene a Cairo Darby between Al Ahly and Zamelek……your just missing out. One of the craziest Darbies in world footy

    • Willian started the year not completely match fit from injury. The dude has proven himself at the highest level for club and country for a few years now……Pulisic can’t say that. He has also survived how many gaffers there? That says something in and of itself as well. Like stated above, if Pulisic can ball day in and out and show up on match day…….there will not be prejudice against him. Now, again….is there maybe a player in the locker room who thinks…..”there is no way a Yank is taking my spot”…….I’m sure there could be some of that too. But that’s the players…not the gaffer or club. There is to much money at stake to win three points week in and week out in the Prem….if you can help make that happen……you’ll find your way onto the pitch…..you could be from Antarctica. Lastly, in Pulisic’s scouting report to Chelsea….it said he moved more like a European than an American on the pitch. It’s in 442 from a month or two ago…..so that kind of puts that notion to rest as well.

    • As an American I totally disagree that prejudice plays any role with Pulisic. He just isn’t good enough and doesn’t make enough of an impact. Lampard needs to win and he’ll put the best players out there wherever they’re from. Pulisic hasn’t earned a starting spot. He needs to be shipped to another club and get on the field ASAP.

  15. Too much pressure on him to be sure. It isn’t Lampard that needs to put him in line up it is CP that needs to force his way in. I am seeing bad signs over the last year that CP simply isn’t ready yet. Bailing in Dortmund instead of staying and fighting for job with Sancho. Then small things like always deferring on PKs to avoid pressure even to point of giving ball to Josh Sergeant against Mexico.
    CP needs to stay and fight at Chelsea if he is the next big thing he needs to start acting like it. Love the kid but if he had Clint Dempseys moxie and his own skills he would be starting in Barca by now. No more excuses.

  16. I hope he isn’t a quitter like you guys.

  17. He couldn’t even maintain a spot in the starting lineup of a team in the German league. It’s no surprise he wouldn’t succeed in England. Maybe he’s a better fit in one of the lesser leagues such as the Dutch league, but even then, he is not a physical player and he’ll struggle due to lack of skills (compared to top skilled players like Salah or Son).

    • Losing a starting spot to Jadon Sancho is an indicator that he wouldn’t succeed in England? GTFO ..Sancho is a stud. Best player in the world born in the 21st Century. Sancho would be Chelsea’s second best player behind Kante.

      • It’s one reason Tuchel asked if Pulisic would consider playing RB, so him and Sancho could play on the same side. Pulisic said no, he played higher up the pitch. Sancho is dirty good….to be fair, he also admires Pulisic’s game.

    • Dude, Dortmund would spin circles around this rubbish Chelsea team. The German squad he left is much better than his current squad. What are you getting at?

  18. He’s playing in 4 meaningful internationals coming up, w/ cross Atlantic travel. Lampard knows that USA heavily leans on CP in non-friendlies, lampard also knows, firsthand, slog of premier league and champions league season. End of story.

  19. If Willian is considered “in form,” then y’all are delusional.

  20. In short, it is clear most people on this site don’t have a clue about European football. Please dont comment as if you know what you are talking about when people like me are viewing and know you have no clue. Even the premise to this article is silly. So the kid is having trouble finding minutes right now. Most of the top names in football could say the same when they were his age.

  21. Bullshit coverage written out of pure American hubris. Pulisic has been afforded the same opportunity as Abraham and Mount and has done nothing. He’s overrated and Chelsea wasted Money. Simple as! This is the prem league not Mls

  22. Can you wait a minute? Jesus. He’s 21 years old. It’s 6 weeks into the season. It’s the EPL not the Bundesliga. US soccer supporters are the worst. The articles went from “he’s going to be the greatest US player in history” to “the door is closing”.

  23. Paul Leavenworth says:

    I was really hoping CP would come in and win the starting job at Chelsea and do well right away. He has the talent. It’s a crowded midfield and Willian has equity with the club. He’s still just 21 years old. I would like to see a loan to a mid table club if he can’t start by January, so he could get minutes and shine.

  24. Terry Honeycutt says:

    Pulisic does not appear aggressive enough and his play is not physical enough. He appears to be more interested in fitting in with the other players when playing and too eager to provide an assist to another player than seeking to score. He is now in a position that requires he play a little selfish if he wants to earn more playing time. Stop being the nice guy.

  25. do u ppl listen ?? pulisic is a worldclass player.if u want to know why he isnot playing look at where he was when Shefield united equalizes during their come back against chelsea.he didnot track back to help the fastly declining cesar Azbilequeta.and we draw that game.

    • Correct, why play him when you can get offensive and defensive production from others, Mount has been Kante 2 out there, he is like the energizer bunny, never quits. Somewhere along the line someone told Pulisic he doesn’t need to expend energy tracking back, bad advice with his current offensive production. Imo he gets stuck in, hustled on both sides of the ball, you’ll see him getting minutes.

  26. Great article. The truth is that Pulisic is this generation’s Landon Donovan. He’ll have a good career and make a real impact on the USMNT. He will not start at Chelsea though and will not progress as a player there. We could have predicted that when he signed and it is very clear now. When Chelsea’s transfer band ends, he’ll be even more of an afterthought. Competing with other teenagers was his only chance and he has now lost that battle at two top clubs. His agent needs to work diligently on finding the best transfer option for him, preferably to a middle tier club where he can regularly get on the field. He needs to play, and it simply will not happen at Chelsea, now or in the future.

    • The difference between Donovan and Pulisic is that Donovan played his heart out every game. How old was he in the 2002 Seoul WC? 21? He was fantastic against Germany in the quarters and in the other games that year. I just don’t see that same drive in Pulisic. Talk to me when he gets 20% of the WC goals that Donovan had over 3 WCs.

  27. He made a ton of money off that transfer though so good for him. Its a job after all. It was the right financial move

  28. His first mistake was not choosing Croatia.

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