Christian Pulisic was not included in a Chelsea squad for the first time in his Premier League career, as the American playmaker was left out of Frank Lampard‘s 18-man squad for the UEFA Champions League win at Lille on Wednesday.
Pulisic, 21, was an unused sub in four of Chelsea’s previous five games, with his only minutes since August coming in a 7-1 win against fourth-tier Grimsby Town in the League Cup.
Speaking to reporters after the the game in Lille, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta encouraged Pulisic to keep working hard to try and get back into the team.
“This is a long path. We are still in a long season, we are still in October. He is working hard and sometimes we know that the manager has to make decisions but I see him working hard in training,” Azpilicueta said. “From here all I can say is to encourage him to keep working because we know that a new country, a new team, a bit of time of adaptation. I see him with a character and working hard in training and hopefully, and I’m sure he will be very important for us for this season.”
Getting the backing of Chelsea’s captain is a good step in the right direction for Pulisic, and there is a general sense within the Blues’ young squad that he will come good.
Azpilicueta is clearly impressed with what he’s seen from the 21-year-old so far and having a senior player put his arm around the shoulder of the young American is exactly what he needs in this tough situation. Azpilicueta also suggested that it has taken Pulisic a little bit of time to settle into life in England and in the PL with Chelsea, which was always going to take some time.
These words of encouragement will go a long way for a player who has admitted it is “very frustrating” to not be on the pitch.
Kind words aside, Pulisic is clearly going to struggle for minutes in the weeks and months ahead.
His competitors for a starting spot have stepped things up in recent weeks since they have taken Pulisic’s place in the team.
Willian scored a stunning volley to win it for Chelsea in Lille on Wednesday and the Brazilian winger also scored in their 2-0 win against Brighton on Saturday. Callum Hudson-Odoi has two assists and a goal in his last three games since returning from injury and the 18-year-old is showing superb signs of progression despite spending the last six months on the sidelines with an Achilles injury.
As for Mason Mount, he is probably Pulisic’s direct rival for a spot in the team but the English midfielder is grinding away, working hard and has been playing well out on the wing or tucked just inside. Pulisic may have more quality than Mount in one-on-one situations, but Lampard appears to trust the player he had on loan at Derby County last season a little more.
Pulisic will have to be patient but he will get chances to play. Lampard has already said that. Those opportunities will likely come in the League Cup, FA Cup and the odd PL game and for now the former Borussia Dortmund winger will have to accept that.