Christian Pulisic didn’t start and didn’t find his way off the bench during Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Newcastle United on Monday — an alarmingly common occurrence under new manager Thomas Tuchel.
Chelsea are unbeaten in Tuchel’s six games in charge (5W-1D-0L – all competitions), but Pulisic has started just once and come off the bench three times. Given the previous working relationship between the two — it was Tuchel who gave Pulisic his professional debut in 2015, when they were at Borussia Dortmund — it wasn’t supposed to be like this.
So, why the latest omission for Pulisic? Tuchel explained the move by saying a bunch of words that didn’t really amount to very much.
— Brian Sciaretta (@BrianSciaretta) February 15, 2021
The most concrete explanation is that Pulisic played 80 minutes four days ago, therefore he wasn’t physically capable of starting on Monday. Having played just 234 minutes since his last Premier League start on Jan. 19 — nearly a full month ago — it’s entirely possible Pulisic’s fitness levels aren’t where they would need to be to start multiple games in the same week. On the other hand, Tuchel doesn’t appear to be doing much to remedy that potential problem, so it feels quite disingenuous to place the blame solely on fitness.
It would also be disingenuous to pretend Pulisic is in fantastic form and he’s simply being held back by a manager who refuses to play him. 1 goal, 1 assist in 960 Premier League minutes — it’s been a far cry from the red-hot form Pulisic displayed during Project Restart. To that point, if Tuchel believes Pulisic has been particularly poor in games and/or training and he simply came out and said that publicly, there’s not a single (rational) person who would blindly defend Pulisic and insist he’s an undroppable player whose name should be first on the team sheet.
Perhaps more than anything, Tuchel has opted for a system — 3-4-2-1 — which doesn’t suit Pulisic very well. He has no business playing as a left wing back — nor should USMNT fans want him doing so — and he’s not good enough on the ball in tight spaces to play up to his talent through the middle of the field. At this point, there’s just not a spot for Pulisic in Tuchel’s system, and it’s hard to argue against the system given the results.