Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Reticent Christian Pulisic generating a buzz at Chelsea that Frank Lampard just can't ignore

American has worked his way back into the mix with Manchester United in the League Cup next

It will be interesting to see if Christian Pulisic starts for Chelsea against Manchester United in Wednesday’s League Cup last 16 match.

The 21-year-old who scored a hat-trick at Burnley on Saturday did more than enough to keep his place, yet, paradoxically, the player who has experienced mixed fortunes since his £57 million (Dh 269m) move from Borussia Dortmund might have done enough not to be selected.

If Pulisic starts, then retaining his place for Saturday’s Premier League game at Watford is improbable, but nobody really knows what manager Frank Lampard is thinking when it comes to the young American.

It’s curious that Lampard has been praised for the way he’s handled Pulisic given he wasn’t happy at not getting on the pitch in five of Chelsea’s six games in September and the start of October. But Lampard is rightly being lauded for the overall job he’s doing in giving young, predominantly British, home-grown youngsters a chance.

So how does an expensive American fit into that? Pulisic didn’t know who would be manager when he signed ahead of Chelsea’s transfer ban but he’s got no regrets. He’s happy enough living alone in London near Wimbledon and he’s not a man for the bright lights of the English capital’s West End.

He did venture to watch the NFL at Wembley at the weekend and enjoyed that, but he’s quiet, private, committed and says little in interviews. He’s known his best friends since school in Pennsylvania and would rather let his football do the talking.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Chelsea v Newcastle United - Stamford Bridge, London, Britain - October 19, 2019 Chelsea manager Frank Lampard with Christian Pulisic after the match REUTERS/Hannah McKay EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard has changed his tactics regarding Christian Pulisic. Reuters

He hasn’t done badly so far on his way to becoming the most expensive American player ever, the record breaker who shattered national team records and who was hailed as the man who’ll be America’s first global 'soccer' superstar.

Pulisic’s Chelsea debut came in a 4-0 opening day reverse at Old Trafford when he played the final 32 minutes. He had a fine game against Liverpool in the European Super Cup a few days later and started Chelsea’s next three games, with one assist.

And then, after the first international break, he was dropped with little explanation why. He didn’t play a minute in five of Chelsea’s next six games and didn’t even make the squad for the Champions League win at Lille.

Brought back in for a League Cup game against Grimsby, he assisted a goal in a 7-1 win but was criticised by Lampard, which raised eyebrows among senior people at Chelsea. And why was he being left out? Did he not fit the narrative created by the manager that he had to play kids who’d come through the system – and was doing so with great success?

Pulisic has worked his way back in. He came on for the last 10 minutes against Southampton and made an assist. He was introduced for the final 26 minutes at home to Newcastle and changed a game Chelsea were drawing but won 1-0. He was involved in that goal and made a similar impact when he came on against Ajax last week with an assist for Michy Batshuayi in a 1-0 win.

He’s been a game changer from the bench and maybe that will be his speciality in his first season in England, but at Burnley on Saturday, Pulisic started his first league game since August and gave a man of the match performance in which he took all three goals well. He can dribble and score. His favourite position is as a 10 where he was used against Newcastle but he’s usually been deployed in a wider role. And no, comparisons with Eden Hazard are not fair right now.

Pulisic has a huge future ahead of him and while Saturday’s hat-trick was his best moment so far for Chelsea, it’s been a bumpy ride for him in England. He’s not short of suitors, though.

Pulisic wouldn’t get in Liverpool’s front three right now, but Jurgen Klopp, who introduced him to Borussia Dortmund’s first team when he was 16, retains huge admiration.

That early start meant that he’d played 60 first team games by the time he turned 19. Lionel Messi had made 34 Barca appearances at the same stage, Cristiano Ronaldo 53 for Sporting and Manchester United.

Earlier this year he was runner up to Kylian M’Bappe in the inaugural Kopa trophy for under 21s. He needs to be playing more than he did last month if he’s to win more awards, but Pulisic did himself no harm with Saturday’s hat-trick. Manchester United are next. Or are they?

Updated: October 29, 2019 10:32 PM

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