Pulisic Watch: How U.S. star is doing at Chelsea, game by game
Welcome to Christian Pulisic Watch, a game-by-game look at the U.S. international as he begins the next phase of his career at Chelsea, following a $73 million move from Borussia Dortmund.
How he performed out of 10: 7. Unlike his last substitute appearance against Southampton back on Oct. 6, when the game was already decided, Pulisic entered this match with plenty on the line. The Blues hadn't been able to break down Newcastle, and the American came on in the 64th minute for Mason Mount.
He didn't disappoint.
Operating out of more central positions, Pulisic delivered a sharp performance off the bench, making good decisions on when to dribble or pass, as well as smart runs off the ball. His secondary assist on Marcos Alonso's goal speaks to how the American made the most of his 27 minutes.
Without question, being a super-sub isn't the role that Pulisic envisioned for himself when he signed on with Chelsea, especially given the $73 million price tag that was attached to him. He'll also want the clear scoring chance he had back. But gaining the trust of the manager has to start somewhere, and the fact that Pulisic has now delivered consecutive impactful performances as a substitute should stand him in good stead with manager Frank Lampard.
Wednesday's UEFA Champions League match on the road against Ajax will reveal just how much the American has moved up the Chelsea pecking order.
Highlights: The American didn't let his squandered opportunity bring him down, as his was involved in the buildup to Alonso's 74th-minute winner. Pulisic's surging run into the box drew several Newcastle defenders to him, his low centering feed found Callum Hudson-Odoi, who set up Alonso's low strike.
Pulisic nearly set up a second for Chelsea as he fed Tammy Abraham with the goal begging, only for the forward's shot to be deflected out by Newcastle defender DeAndre Yedlin.
Lowlights: Pulisic had a glorious chance to grab his first Chelsea goal in the 68th minute, but could only put his close-range shot right at Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka.
How he performed out of 10: 7. With Chelsea already 3-1 up when Pulisic entered the match in the 80th minute, there wasn't a whole lot of urgency by the Blues in terms of committing numbers forward. But the American seemed intent on making an impression -- even in his limited minutes -- with some bright off-the-ball movement. With just a minute of normal time left, he took up an aggressive position near the top of the penalty area, received a pass from Michy Batshuayi and then slid a lovely return feed that allowed the Belgian to fire home Chelsea's fourth goal. It was Pulisic's fourth assist on the season.
Was it enough to possibly shoehorn his way into the starting XI for Chelsea's next fixture against Newcastle United on Oct. 19? That still seems unlikely. Manager Frank Lampard will be reluctant to break up a winning side, and each of the players Pulisic is competing with for playing time can also point to moments where they made an impact. Mason Mount scored Chelsea's second; Willian assisted on that tally and had some surging runs forward; Callum Hudson-Odoi's long pass set up Tammy Abraham for Chelsea's opener. Hudson-Odoi did squander some clear opportunities, so there may be an opening there, but he also created two additional chances as the Blues generally tore Southampton apart in the opening 45 minutes. This remains a tough lineup to crack.
At least the 11-minute stint allowed Pulisic to make some tangible contributions that will help his confidence. The international break now begins, with the American set to contribute to the U.S. team's efforts in the CONCACAF Nations League.
Highlights: The fact that Pulisic saw the field in a league match for the first time since Aug. 31 counts as a highlight, coming on for Hudson-Odoi in the 79th minute. The American also took advantage of his opportunity, setting up Batshuayi's goal in the 89th minute.
Lowlights: Had one giveaway near midfield and subsequent foul, but no huge errors.
How he performed out of 10: No rating. Having travelled to France, Pulisic was somewhat surprisingly left out of Frank Lampard's 18-man gameday squad. There was no word ahead of kickoff that he had picked up an injury, but his latest absence means the American has played no part in five of Chelsea's last six games.
Chelsea, who won 2-1 to claim their first Champions League points of the season, visit Southampton on Sunday. Pulisic then travels across the Atlantic to link up with his national team for a pair of CONCACAF Nations League games.
Opponent: Brighton (2-0; Sept. 28, Premier League)
How he performed out of 10: No rating. For the fourth time in Chelsea's last five competitive fixtures, Christian Pulisic was an unused substitute as the Blues claimed a home win over Brighton & Hove Albion. Manager Frank Lampard opted to deploy Mason Mount, Pedro, Ross Barkley and Willian in support of striker Tammy Abraham.
In a sign of how far Pulisic has perhaps fallen down the Blues' depth chart, Lampard opted for Callum Hudson-Odoi to come on for Pedro in the 63rd minute and the Chelsea academy product made the most of his time on the field, leading a counterattack to set up Willian for Chelsea's second goal in the 76th minute.
At this stage, and barring a spate of injuries to his competition, it's difficult to see how Pulisic can get on the field in the near term.
Opponent: Grimsby (7-1; Sept. 25, Carabao Cup)
Stats: Pulisic had an assist -- his third for Chelsea -- but was unable to make any of his three shots count as his first goal for the club. He took 52 touches in his 90 minutes of work and had a 73.5% pass completion rate.
How he performed out of 10: 6. Pulisic was mobile and active, but oftentimes his runs weren't rewarded with a pass from a teammate. Aside from Michy Batshuayi's goal, he was largely quiet for the first half hour, but he began finding himself isolated against Liam Gibson more thereafter, and was a threat from the right flank for the remainder of the first half.
Initially in the second half, Pulisic continued to excel with his movement, but was either unable to make things happen on the ball or his teammates couldn't find him. That eventually changed as he had the aforementioned two looks at goal. The late assist was his most tangible contribution on the night.
All told, Pulisic was solid. Was it enough to alter the thinking of manager Frank Lampard heading into the league fixture this weekend against Brighton & Hove Albion? That seems unlikely. Not only was he playing against fourth-tier opposition, but the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi did more to impress on the night. The competition for playing time isn't getting any easier.
Highlights: Pulisic was involved in the run-up to Batshuayi's seventh-minute tally, playing Reece James in behind the Grimsby defense. He nearly latched on to James' return feed only for Batshuayi to collect and score off the turn.
A darting run in the 28th minute in which he evaded Gibson resulted in him being hauled down by Matthew Green. Pulisic then began having more success, delivering some telling crosses. While Pulisic's defense hasn't always been sharp since moving to Chelsea, he tracked back deep in his own half to win the ball with a clean tackle in the 32nd minute.
While Pulisic was unable to put two second-half opportunities on goal, he was consistently putting himself in good positions, including one exchange with James in the 65th minute and another from Barkley seven minutes later. Pulisic ended the night by assisting on Batshuayi's 86th-minute goal.
Lowlights: There weren't too many to speak of really, although he and James were beaten pretty easily in the 22nd minute that allowed Grimsby to get a cross in, although the shot from James Hanson was wide. In the second half he twice got looks at goal but failed to hit the target on both occasions.
How he performed out of 10: No rating. Pulisic remained on the bench again this Sunday and watched on as his team lost 2-1 at home to Liverpool. To be fair to the 21-year-old, two injuries in the first half to defenders Emerson and Andreas Christensen required changes as Marcos Alonso and Kurt Zouma were drafted in. The final switch, following N'Golo Kante's 71st minute goal, was a like-for-like swap as natural center-forward Michy Batshuayi replaced Tammy Abraham as the main focal point of the attack.
It represents more disappointment early in the U.S. star's Chelsea career, but this time, events conspired against him.
How he performed out of 10: No rating. Is it time to worry about Pulisic's place in the Chelsea squad? It's worth noting that the season -- including the UEFA Super Cup match against Liverpool -- is now a mere eight matches old. There is still plenty of time for his move to Chelsea to work out.
Yet the fact that Pulisic failed to get on the field for the second consecutive match after returning from international duty early doesn't bode well, and hints that he hasn't won the trust of manager Frank Lampard. To be fair, Pulisic has only shown flashes of form this season, so Lampard is well within his rights to scan his roster and look for other options. Calum Hudson-Odoi is due back soon as well, so Pulisic's situation isn't going to get any easier.
Overall, things don't look good in the short term for Pulisic, although how much squad rotation Lampard opts for this weekend at home to Liverpool remains to be seen.
Lowlights: It was bad enough that Pulisic began the game on the bench after having played no part in the Blues' 5-2 win over Wolves at the weekend, but the optics got worse when Mason Mount was forced out of the match in the 15th minute due to a right ankle injury.
One might have expected Pulisic to step in, yet Lampard opted for former Spain international Pedro instead, hinting that Pulisic has fallen quite a way down the Blues' pecking order. With the game winding down, and Chelsea in need of a goal, Lampard opted for Ross Barkley in midfield rather than Pulisic.
Opponent: Wolves (5-2; Sept. 14, Premier League)
How he performed out of 10: No rating. With Frank Lampard opting for a 3-4-2-1 alignment, Pulisic began the match among the substitutes. Given that the American returned from international duty early, that counts as a disappointment, although how much of that was due to the fact that Chelsea face Valencia in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday remains to be seen.
The Blues certainly didn't miss Pulisic in this match, as Chelsea raced out to a 3-0 half-time lead and rode Tammy Abraham's hat trick to a 5-2 victory. Willian, Pulisic's replacement, didn't create much on the day, but with Lampard forced to make two injury-induced substitutions for Abraham and Antonio Rudiger, there was no room on the field for Pulisic.
Next up for Chelsea is Tuesday's aforementioned Champions League encounter against Valencia at Stamford Bridge.
Stats: Pulisic made 82.9% of his passes but didn't create a chance, nor register an assist. He played the full 90 minutes for the first time but had only one shot on goal.
How he performed out of 10: 5. Given that Chelsea had 61.9% possession, one might have expected Pulisic to be more impactful in the attack, but one could say that about the entire Chelsea team, as Mason Mount fared no better. There are also some days when there's only so much that the opposition gives you, and Sheffield United were determined to take away space behind the defense.
To Pulisic's credit, he did what he could to get into the game. Touches were difficult for him to come by over the first 20 minutes, but he found more success when he started taking up more central positions, allowing him to run at the defense more and combine with the likes of Ross Barkley and Tammy Abraham.
All of that said, this was a game much like the one against Leicester City two weeks ago where there was little in the way of end product for Pulisic, and he struggled to get the ball in positions where he could do damage. Given the fitness issues facing some of Chelsea's other attacking options, Pulisic is likely to keep his place, but with the Blues struggling for results, it will be interesting to see how patient manager Frank Lampard is with the American.
Highlights: Pulisic was a significant factor in the run-up to Abraham's 19th-minute opener. Not only did he get the ball out wide to Cesar Azpilicueta, but his touch on Abraham's subsequent header prevented Sheffield United keeper Dean Henderson from collecting the ball, allowing Abraham to slam home the rebound.
One of his trademark runs at the defense saw him win a free kick in a dangerous position in the 31st minute. On the defensive side, he showed plenty of tenacity to win the ball back from Enda Stevens and win a foul in the 54th minute.
Lowlights: Pulisic cut a peripheral figure in attack for much of the match and created little off the dribble. He lost one defensive duel with Stevens in the 70th minute that led to an opportunity for the visitors, but Oliver Norwood's subsequent shot was easily saved by Kepa. Pulisic also didn't do enough to cut out the entry pass from Norwood to Callum Robinson that led to Kurt Zouma's own goal.
With the international window kicking in, the Blues' next match won't take place until Sept. 14 when they face Wolves away.
Opponent: Norwich (3-2; Aug. 24, Premier League)
Stats: Started and played 84 minutes before being substituted for Willian. He didn't score but he picked up an assist and created three chances. He made 84.2% of his passes and 86.4% in the final third.
How he performed out of 10: 7. Playing on the right wing after Pedro's injury in the warm-up, Pulisic set up a goal and won for the first time as a Chelsea player. He picked up a 17th-minute assist as he drifted inside to slot the ball to Mason Mount, who cut back across his man and finished well.
In the second half he wasted a chance to put his name on the score sheet by blasting into the side netting when through on the goalkeeper. Overall, he was a good attacking threat and though he disappeared a bit in the second half, he still carved out chances.
Highlights: Provided the overlap ball to Cesar Azpilicueta to cross for Tammy Abraham's opener and was full of running to close down the defenders in the early stages. A good one-two with Mateo Kovacic almost opened up some space for a second goal before the Croatian's cross came to nothing, but then he bagged an assist of his own as he found space to feed Mount for the second goal.
Just before half-time, Pulisic did well to take down a long ball and turn brilliantly in the box, but his shot was blocked. Minutes later, good control saw him set up Ross Barkley for a shot that flew over. A run down the right late in the second half set up the England midfielder again only for his shot to be charged down, before Pulisic's excellent low cross was kept out on 80 minutes.
Lowlights: He let Emiliano Buendia glide past him too easily for Todd Cantwell to score, and Chelsea lacked width on the right as Pulisic kept drifting inside, though he showed how dangerous he is there by assisting Mount from a central position. On 22 minutes, he found space in the box only to lose his footing and fall over comically, much to the joy of the Norwich fans.
One minute into the second half, Pulisic was set free down the right but seemed to panic when faced with the goalkeeper and shot into the side netting. He took a while to get his confidence back after that and it was understandable that he was subbed off. He has yet to finish a game he has started.
Next Saturday, the Blues will take on Sheffield United at Stamford Bridge.
Opponent: Leicester (1-1; Aug. 18, Premier League)
Stats: Started and played 71 minutes before making way for Willian. Zero goals or assists. 18 of 21 passes completed.
How he performed out of 10: 5. Overall, this was a pretty anonymous performance for the American. Pulisic was plenty involved in the game's first 15 minutes, when Chelsea were rampant and Mason Mount scored in the seventh minute. But his contribution consisted mostly of keeping the attack ticking over. When Leicester finally settled into the match, Pulisic had little to no impact, especially in the final third.
That trend continued into the second half, and he was substituted in the 70th minute. That isn't all down to him mind you. The play of the entire team fell off, but it wasn't the kind of performance that will send the hearts of Chelsea fans (and U.S. supporters too) fluttering. With Willian returning to full fitness, it will be interesting to see if Pulisic's minutes are impacted.
Highlights: Pulisic had some bright moments early. He nearly latched on to a rebound from Mason Mount's shot in the second minute, only for his attempt to be spoiled by Ricardo Pereira. His flick-on from the ensuing corner was enticing, but there was no one at the far post.
The American was involved in the buildup to a 26th minute opportunity when he played Emerson down the left wing. The Italy international's cross was back-heeled by Olivier Giroud to N'Golo Kante, but the shot was wide. The fact that those count as highlights is illustrative of the kind of day Pulisic had.
- Chelsea player ratings: Azpilicueta a 5/10 as Blues drop points
Lowlights: There were no glaring errors by Pulisic, but little in the way of standout moments either. Some of this was down to the fact that Chelsea's attack was tilted a bit more to Pedro's side during the early exchanges. Pulisic and Pedro switched sides at one point in the first half, but there was no uptick in form for Pulisic. He was soon back on the left wing. While Pulisic's passing was sharp (18/21), he was dispossessed a team-high six times.
Opponent: Liverpool (2-2; Aug. 14, UEFA Super Cup)
Stats: Started and played 74 minutes: zero goals, one assist, 74.1% pass completion percentage (20-27), two chances created, two shots, no shots on goal, 50 touches and three successful take-ons.
How he performed (out of 10): 6. Pulisic's first Chelsea start made him the second American -- after Jovan Kirovski with Borussia Dormtund in 1997 -- to play in this match.This was a performance to build on for the American, and his assist will begin to ease at least some of concerns about how long it will take him to settle into the side, or his ability to compete at the Premier League level. There will be disappointment that his goal was disallowed, but without question he showed his quality.
Clearly, Pulisic's best spell came in the last 20 minutes of the first half. In the second half he remained active, having had a few shots blocked by the Liverpool defense, but he wasn't quite as impactful as he was in the opening 45 minutes. Liverpool were in the ascendency to begin the second half and his passing began to erode a bit. That said, this match was a step forward for Pulisic, despite the end result.
"There's more to come from Pulisic. We must remember his age, he's only 20," Chelsea manager Frank Lampard said after the match. "It took him a bit to get into the game but when he got into it we saw what a player her is and that's a good sign for the club."
Highlights: Pulisic hadn't been that impactful over the game's first 25 minutes, but he was instrumental in Chelsea's 36th-minute tally. N'Golo Kante found the American in a central position, allowing Pulisic to run at the Liverpool defense. With defenders closing in, he slid a deft pass while falling to the ground to put Olivier Giroud in on goal, and the Frenchman converted with a cool finish.
Just minutes later Pulisic thought he had his first competitive goal for the Blues, twisting his way past Joe Gomez and Joel Matip to find the net, only for it be ruled out by a narrow offside decision.
Lowlights: Pulisic did start the match slow, but that is nitpicking to a degree. Liverpool is among the most formidable of opponents, and Chelsea didn't have much of the ball early. He was among those culpable for allowing Sadio Mane a free header from a corner in the 30th minute, but ultimately wasn't punished.
Stats: Played 36 minutes as a substitute, zero goals: zero assists, 100% pass completion percentage (12-12), one chance created, no shots, no shots on goal, one chance created. 23 touches, three successful take-ons.
How he performed (out of 10): 5. All told, Pulisic was by no means overwhelmed as he entered from the substitutes' bench, but the fact remains that he wasn't that impactful, and the chance he created came long after the game had been decided. That said, Pulisic walked into a team that fell apart defensively after he entered the match, so Lampard will have far bigger concerns about his side than Pulisic's performance.
Highlight: Normally, making your debut with your new club would rank as a highlight, but a 4-0 away defeat tempers this considerably. Pulisic did have one sequence where he shook loose from Aaron Wan-Bissaka only to be fouled by Paul Pogba after he released the ball. Pulisic's best moment came in second-half stoppage time when he set up Emerson Palmieri for an attempt at goal that forced a sharp save from United goalkeeper David De Gea.
Lowlight: The team performance was one to forget given the scoreline, with Chelsea's defense looking highly suspect. For Pulisic, he started the game on the bench, which counts as a disappointment given the anticipation attached to his debut. Frank Lampard, who was making a league debut of his own as the club's manager after starring for the Blues as a player, preferred Ross Barkley and Pedro in the wide positions that Pulisic would have been expected to occupy.
Lampard told NBC Sports afterwards that, "I just felt coming to Old Trafford, the type of game it was, I knew we needed bodies in midfield because it's a busy area for them ... So Ross coming in off the line, bringing a bit of stability in midfield and around midfield would be good for us."
After entering the match in the 58th minute, Pulisic did have a few chances to run at the defense but wasn't able to threaten the United goal off the dribble. He also had a chance to pick out fellow substitute Olivier Giroud with a cross in second-half stoppage time, but couldn't connect.