Pedro

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Breaking down Pulisic’s competition at Chelsea

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Christian Pulisic has gone three Premier League games without seeing the field. An unused substitute again at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea topped Brighton 2-0 on Saturday, the 21-year-old told NBC Sports that his lack of playing time is “very frustrating” and that “it is tough for me right now.”

Frank Lampard is under no obligation to play the American despite his hefty $73 million price tag on the move from Borussia Dortmund over the winter. With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at the performances of his competition at Chelsea and determine whether the Blues boss is making the right decision in keeping Pulisic on the bench.

There seems to be at least four other attacking players above Pulisic in the depth chart: Experienced international wingers Willian and Pedro, and youngsters Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Here’s a closer look at each player’s season so far.

Mason Mount

The 20-year-old England youth international has exploded onto the scene this campaign, forced into the rotation due to Chelsea’s transfer ban. He has taken his chance marvelously, proving a massive threat to opposition defenses on the ball. The sample size is still small, but Mount is currently rated as WhoScored’s 14th best player so far this season with an impressive 7.45 rating. He has delivered three goals thus far, and has produced over two key passes per game and just under two successful dribbles per game.

Lampard has begun to deploy Mount more centrally, pairing him in midfield with Ross Barkley and allowing him to venture forward. He created three chances against Brighton last time out and won the penalty that saw Jorginho put Chelsea in front just after halftime. There is no doubt that in his current form, Mount should be starting every match for Chelsea at this point, and Pulisic can have no qualms about sitting behind the fellow youngster.

Pedro

Since arriving from Barcelona in 2015, Pedro has been a versatile player that has seen significant time under a host of different Chelsea managers who have all noticed his value. Playing as a true winger, a central creative force, or a wing-back in various formations, Pedro has been able to contribute in a number of ways.

This season, Pedro has been of decent quality. He started slow against Brighton last time out but ended up with a solid overall performance, testing the goalkeeper a few different times and creating opportunities for his teammates. Still, that was his first league appearances since August and he was withdrawn for Hudson-Odoi after an hour. Lampard doesn’t seem to fully trust the Spaniard. His appearance in the lineup against Brighton instead of Pulisic was probably the most surprising given his lack of playing time thus far, but he proved a valuable asset.

Willian

Willian provides an experienced foil to the youthful Mount and Hudson-Odoi (Getty Images).

While a hamstring problem carried over from summer international duty limited him early in the season, the 31-year-old Brazilian has seen significant playing time over the last month. Racking up three straight 90-minute showings in a row in league play, Willian is a trusted servant for Frank Lampard early on. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat difficult to determine why.

Aside from the demolition of Wolves in which he was brilliant, the performances have been quite spotty for Willian thus far. While his passing accuracy is 80 percent this season, a closer look shows a host of square passes well outside the box that inflate that total. Against Brighton, Willian added little creativity, especially in the first half when Chelsea as a whole struggled to produce much of anything. Still, he came away with the game’s second goal, a tight-angled strike out of basically nothing that was deflected in and punished poor one-on-one marking and even worse goalkeeping.

Another key part of Willian’s game is his defensive contributions which often can neuter his overall attacking threat. He came away from the Brighton with four completed tackles on the right flank, an impressive total for a winger. A look at his performance in the loss to Liverpool shows he was pinned back by his defensive duties for much of the game, and when he did get forward he was unable to produce much, completing just two of his six attempted passes in the penalty area and failing to come away from the match with an official chance created. Willian is a good squad player, but he hasn’t exactly dazzled in the early going. His fans will say he’s never been a dazzling player, and that’s a fair retort.

Callum Hudson-Odoi

Just having returned from an Achilles injury, the 18-year-old is clearly a fabulous talent. With the Blues having rejected Bayern Munich’s advances. There’s a feeling of obligation to play Hudson-Odoi now that Bayern has been rebuffed to confirm the club’s commitment to his future. Still, there’s a reason he sees the field. In 30 minutes against Brighton, he picked up an assist and proved valuable defensively, completing two tackles in two attempts and completing 21 of 24 passes. It wasn’t an inspiring passing chart, but Chelsea was playing with a lead the entire time.

Plenty remains to be seen here how he gets on after returning from injury, but as a huge talent that has already broken into the England senior squad, there’s little reason to think he won’t see a lot of the field.

The verdict:

This is a difficult one to analyze as aside from Mason Mount, there are plenty of question marks remaining among those in front of Pulisic on the depth chart. Willian and Pedro are older, experienced players who don’t light up the field but managers love them for their dedication to the team effort and game plan, while Hudson-Odoi has plenty to prove on his way back from injury but figures to be given the chance to do so.

Given the unknowns, there’s no reason to think Pulisic can’t work his way back up the ranks. Chelsea is clearly committed to youth this season, and there is plenty of incentive to develop Pulisic into a regular contributor given his promise, his age, and the club’s financial commitment. Eventually, it’s logical to think Willian and Pedro will be phased out in favor of the younger attacking players.

Let’s also remember, Christian Pulisic isn’t the only good player struggling for time at Chelsea. Jorginho has proven an improved asset at Stamford Bridge, while Kante has also struggled with injury, the improved play of Jorginho has enabled Lampard to be careful with the French midfielder, confirming Kante missed the Brighton squad with a hamstring problem that left Chelsea to be cautious. Had Jorginho not been playing so well, Kante may have been risked.

While it’s natural to panic over Pulisic’s small workload early on – and certainly frustrating for the player given his phasing out at Dortmund at the hands of Jadon Sancho – it’s not time to push the big red button. Lampard has clearly told Pulisic to improve his training, and nobody but the team knowns what goes on there. All we can judge is what happens on the field, and until someone at Chelsea struggles greatly and deserves to be replaced, it’s tough to see a way back in for Pulisic in the short-term.

WATCH: Beautiful Besler back heel goal finishes off NYCFC

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Nick Besler’s been watching Pedro.

The black-booted Real Salt Lake midfielder had to think fast on Sunday to produce a fantastic goal which needs second and third looks, if only because you might not see the genius at first blush.

[ MORE: Barca adds Liverpool target ]

The 26-year-old Besler, younger brother of Matt, was on the scene when Jefferson Savarino’s bounding volley of a loose ball traced wide of the post.

Besler’s jabbed his foot at the ball, flicking it home in a more rapid version of Pedro’s elegant finish for Chelsea earlier this week.

Real’s collection of goals in the 3-1 win over New York City FC was beautiful, and you could argue that the preceding goals from Savarino and Albert Rusnak were just as sweet.

The Utah side is four points back of third, and just four ahead of ninth. MLS is wild this year, team.

Everton upends Chelsea at Goodison Park (video)

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  • Richarlison scores 12th goal of season
  • Sides combine for 30 shots
  • Sigurdsson converts rebound after missing penalty

Richarlison and Gylfi Sigurdsson scored second half goals as Everton handed Chelsea a 2-0 setback at Goodison Park on Sunday.

The loss keeps Chelsea in sixth place, three points behind Arsenal and one shy of Manchester United.

Everton is 11th with 40 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Gonzalo Higuain was saved by Jordan Pickford moments after Eden Hazard hit an early effort off the far goal post.

Mostly, however, the first half was a series of Chelsea chances without finish, Pedro a particularly busy and influential member of the visitors.

The Spaniard had the ball in the back of the net off a free kick sent over the top of the Everton back line, but the linesman’s flag was raised for offside.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The second half began with a bang, the noise made when Andre Gomes saw his shot move off the cross bar.

Richarlison then burst toward a loose ball and headed into the Chelsea goal after Dominic Calvert-Lewin‘s header off a corner was parried by Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Pickford then kept the lead in tact with a terrific low save on a Higuain drive through traffic.

Richarlison then won a penalty when he chipped a ball past Marcos Alonso and the Spaniard stepped on his foot. Sigurdsson saw his penalty saved by Arrizabalaga, but rolled in the rebound.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

Chelsea pummels Dynamo Kiev 3-0 in Europa League

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Pedro got the party started in the 17th minute, and Chelsea never looked back as they grabbed a 3-0 first leg lead over Dynamo Kiev in Europa League play on Thursday.

After Arsenal fell to Stade Rennais earlier in the day, the Premier League needed a Europa League champion and the Blues were just that. They beat Dynamo into submission, finishing with 60% of possession and topping the Ukranian side 8-0 in shots on target.

Pedro’s opener came on an absolutely stunning feed from Olivier Giroud as the Frenchman back-heeled the ball through the legs of Artem Shabanov. With Chelsea in front, they proved relentless as the match went on.

The second came on a free-kick from Willian in the 65th minute, finding the top-left corner with a delivery over the top of the wall, as Dynamo goalkeeper Denys Boyko was rooted to the spot. The goal for Willian mirrored the Brazilian’s free-kick he deposited in 2015 against Dynamo in Champions League play.

To finish things off, Callum Hudson-Odoi completed the scoreline in the 90th minute, an important goal that will give Maurizio Sarri the ability to take his foot off the gas pedal a bit in the second leg. It began on a long-ball by Pedro from near the halfway line on the right flank, finding a streaking Ruben Loftus-Cheek down the middle. He tapped beautifully to Hudson-Odoi crossing behind, and his finish tucked inside the far post.

The second leg takes place next Thursday in Kiev, and while the Blues already enjoy a healthy lead, even one away goal would almost surely finish it off barring an absolute defensive nightmare on the road.

Caballero backs Kepa, Sarri moves on after Chelsea win

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Chelsea’s Willy Caballero must’ve been feeling some pressure after sliding into Kepa Arrizabalaga‘s shoes following the fallout from the latter’s refusal to leave Sunday’s League Cup Final loss to Manchester City.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 2-0 Spurs ]

While the Blues’ backstop didn’t actually have to stop a Spurs shot on target, he kept the clean sheet and managed to big up his young goalkeeping partner in the post-match press conference.

“Always a clean sheet for me is satisfaction,” Caballero said. “We spoke about what happened and the very good news … is we are ready. Kepa was fantastic today supporting me. I think he learned and we learned and we are improving as a team.”

Pedro scored and was a general force for the Blues, and has seen his share of drama between his time at Barcelona and Chelsea.

He was not worried after the game, as Chelsea rebounded from a bad run to beat a big rival. And more importantly, he says the team is unified in its pursuit of its goals.

“It’s good to stay all together,” Pedro said. “It’s a big team. From here until the rest of the season, we aim for Top Four and also to win the Europa League.”

As for the man closest to the center of the Kepa incident, Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri said Wednesday’s match and the punishment to move Arrizabalaga to the bench were both victories for the club.

“It was really very easy because Kepa made a big mistake and then paid with the club. In this match he has to pay for the team. It was only a message for all the team, the dressing room, we are a team, not 25 individuals. Now we stop the question, it is behind us and in the future Kepa will be with us.”