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What Christian Pulisic Must Do to Break into the Chelsea Team

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportOctober 15, 2019

B/R Football

Christian Pulisic wanted to give himself the best possible chance of fitting in at Chelsea from day one.

Aged 20 and moving from German side Borussia Dortmund to a Premier League club in London, for a fee of £58 million, is surely daunting. Yet the United States international set about making sure he was well-prepared for the challenge ahead.

His transfer was sealed in January and once Dortmund's campaign was over, he travelled to England to spend two days getting his new life in shape.

New signings, particularly from abroad, are given accommodation and drivers as par for the course, but Pulisic felt he should try to find his own identity as quickly as possible.

By the time the 2019/20 season arrived, he was feeling good. He found an apartment in Wimbledon to call his own and spent time learning to drive on the left-hand side of the road so that he did not need to rely on someone else to get him to Chelsea's Cobham training base each day.

Pre-season had gone well as he tried to adapt to the teachings of new head coach Frank Lampard and his coaching staff of Jody Morris, Eddie Newton and Joe Edwards.

Pulisic was handed a starting role in the UEFA Super Cup clash with Liverpool, and he chalked up an assist for Olivier Giroud in a game Chelsea would eventually lose 5-4 in a penalty shootout. In the BBC player ratings, chosen by the general public, he polled as the Blues' third-best performer on the night.

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The signs there were good, but before the game in Istanbul, he started the first game of the Premier League season on the bench. It was—perhaps—the first sign of concern. Had Lampard left him out due to the fact Manchester United was such a tough place to make your debut, or was it something else?

Pulisic saw 32 minutes of action in a 4-0 loss, and while he did then start Chelsea's next three matches, he has since found himself out in the cold. In the last four league encounters, he has figured only once, getting 10 minutes at Southampton in a game Chelsea breezed 4-1. So what's going on?

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 31: Luke Freeman of Sheffield United tackles Christian Pulisic of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea FC and Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge on August 31, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Visionhau
Visionhaus/Getty Images

The Pennsylvania-born player has certainly thrown himself into bigger moves than the one to Stamford Bridge. He moved from the U.S. to Germany at the tender age of 16 and made his Bundesliga debut less than a year later.

While Pulisic never expected life at Chelsea to be easy, the fact it was in an English-speaking country gave him reason to believe the settling-in process might be slightly easier, as sources told B/R.

He is a confident lad. At his media unveiling with Chelsea, journalists discovered how he was well-versed in dealing with expectations and high pressure. It no doubt stems from the fact he's become so used to the limelight as the United States men's national team's brightest star.

The UK media can be harsh, though, and Pulisic is already discovering the extent of that. A report in the Mail on Sunday earlier this month suggested he was already considering giving up on Chelsea—but that story was put to bed swiftly when the American told the Evening Standard he would keep fighting to win a place in the starting XI.

Of the early struggles, he said: "You can't completely ignore it. I don't live under a rock. I hear things, I see things, but I do my best to block it out. I'm just working hard for myself. The outside opinions don't matter as much to me as to what's in the team, myself and the people who care about me. I'm just going to keep working and do my best and not worry about it."

According to B/R sources close to Chelsea's coaching team, Pulisic is far from a lost cause.

Insiders explain how Lampard and his staff do see the potential he has and are quite excited by his raw ability, but they have been slightly frustrated by the fact he has not yet showcased exactly what they are looking for.

This present-day Chelsea team is built of players perfectly trusted to carry out the tactical plan being implemented by Lampard, Morris and Co. They are now simply looking for Pulisic to prove he can fit into the team ethic both with and without the ball. Every training session is being used to monitor how well he is taking on board their messages. 

Chelsea left-back Emerson Palmieri has got to know Pulisic as well as anybody this season, linking up down the flank in the early weeks of the campaign and working on patterns of combination play as part of Lampard's tactical approach.

Emerson told B/R how he expects Pulisic to grow both on and off the pitch in the coming months.

"Pulisic is a quiet guy," he said. "I think that is normal since he just got to the club and I believe that he is going to be more open with some time. He shows a lot of good technique—I see him play before and during training sessions and he has been showing that he is able to use both feet and he is very fast dribbling in short spaces.

"He is young but has a big responsibility. You see that, in the game, he always tries his best. Because he plays close to me, he has been trying to help me in defence, and I think that he has been showing a very good level.

"I believe his biggest strength in the Premier League is going to be that technique he has. He knows how to dribble on both sides, and he is very dangerous in a one-versus-one. So I believe he is going to use this to beat opponents in this league and help us." 

When Pulisic was young he idolised Luis Figo. When he joined Chelsea, he was seen as the replacement for Eden Hazard. Right now, though, he just needs to focus on being Pulisic.

Winning his place back won't be easy: Mason Mount, Willian, Pedro, Ross Barkley and Callum Hudson-Odoi are all competing for similar roles in this side.

However, Pulisic is a naturally gifted player who has a mindset strong enough to overcome criticism and the talent to yet shine bright in Europe's toughest league.

Listen to Dean every week on the B/R Football Ranks podcast. Subscribe here. 

 

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