LONDON — It feels like USMNT star Christian Pulisic is truly at a pivotal stage of his career with Chelsea in the Premier League.
Deep into his third season at Chelsea, Pulisic, 23, has been an unused substitute in their last two Premier League games.
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He could have been rested after he started six Premier League games in a row over the busy festive period and played at wing-back, as a false nine and in his usual left-wing spot as Chelsea’s squad was decimated by injuries and illness.
But there’s also a growing sense that it could mean playing second fiddle is his role at Chelsea as long as Thomas Tuchel is in charge. Tuchel has recently criticized his attacking unit for lackluster displays and Christian Pulisic hasn’t played since his own lackluster outing at Manchester City.
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There are also growing whispers that Pulisic may be thinking about leaving Chelsea this summer to go elsewhere and be ‘the main man’ at another European giant, as reports consistently link him with a move to Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool and others.
Is Pulisic at the right club at the wrong time?
Right off the bat, let me say this: Pulisic could easily stay at Chelsea for a few years under Tuchel (who seems likely to stay at Stamford Bridge longer than most Chelsea managers…) and be just fine.
But is just fine enough?
Christian Pulisic is a generational talent for the USMNT. In a World Cup year, does he want to go into Qatar in December (assuming the USMNT qualify…) with 10 starts, two goals and one assist to his name in the 2022-23 Premier League season?
No. He doesn’t. He is ambitious and looked annoyed (who wouldn’t be?) at not coming off the bench in Chelsea’s 2-0 win at home against Tottenham on Sunday.
It is not the first time Pulisic has battled with being out of the squad at Chelsea. But the other battles mostly happened when he was much younger and just settling in.
Frank Lampard took a while to warm to him and Tuchel has admitted openly that he loves having Pulisic as an option off the bench to make an impact. Pulisic should (and definitely does) want more than that.
Now he is back fully fit, everything seems to be right for Pulisic at Chelsea. Except for the style of play and his playing time. Those are two big factors.
Is now the right time to move on?
In Tuchel’s usual 3-4-2-1 system it is all about the wing backs providing the width and wide attackers cutting inside to get on the ball. Pulisic loves to stay wide and dribble inside with the ball. He isn’t able to do that often at Chelsea due to their playing style.
With the 4-1-4-1 system Tuchel used against Tottenham he may be able to do that more off the left, but then he has to get past Callum Hudson-Odoi, Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Kai Havertz and Mason Mount just to get into the starting lineup.
Those star names, and even Romelu Lukaku, have been criticized heavily by Tuchel in recent weeks for not producing enough in attack. But Christian Pulisic is the only one of them who hasn’t played a single second of action since Tuchel spoke those harsh words following their defeat at Man City on Jan. 15.
As long as Tuchel is around it feels like playing time will continue to be a battle for Pulisic at Chelsea. It’s not that Pulisic isn’t rated at the club. It’s that his output has been impacted by injuries and he has scored 20 goals and added 10 assists in 96 appearances. That averages out to one goal involvement in just over every three games.
Is that enough? Has Pulisic been given enough of a chance by Tuchel, in his preferred position? There are other questions we should look into around how well his style of play suits the Premier League.
A crossroads in his career?
This feels like a massive decision coming up for the young American.
Pulisic’s name is massive in the global game. His potential is massive. Chelsea are a massive club in the best and most-watched league on the planet. All of this should add up. He has shown glimpses of his brilliance, as recently as his superb lobbed finished against Liverpool on Jan. 2, and especially in games against Real Madrid and Porto in Chelsea’s run to UEFA Champions League glory last season.
His move to Chelsea just hasn’t been exactly what all parties wished for. And that’s okay.
But it makes you wonder if, after three seasons at Chelsea, he may move on this summer in search of somewhere where he will truly become a global superstar. Bayern Munich? Barcelona? Liverpool? Will he have the same issues there? Or maybe he moves to the next group of clubs down to be a true star on a team that really, truly needs him?
With two years left on his contract this June, Chelsea know they will be able to demand top dollar for the USMNT star this summer and then his transfer value will diminish if he doesn’t sign a new deal.
These next few months feel huge in determining whether or not Christian Pulisic’s future remains at Chelsea.