Christian Pulisic lasted just 45 minutes on Saturday lunchtime — it was hardly the ideal way to mark only a second Premier League start since Thomas Tuchel’s appointment.
The USA international gave Chelsea the lead against West Brom before being forced off at half time with a hamstring injury, meaning he could only watch on as the Blues succumbed to a shock 5-2 defeat.
It seems typical of Pulisic’s Chelsea career so far that what appeared to be a real opportunity quickly turned into another major disappointment.
So, ahead of the Blues’ Champions League quarter-final clash with Porto tonight, we consider what the American’s Stamford Bridge future may hold.
Tuchel, who had chosen to include the former Borussia Dortmund winger in his starting XI just once before the weekend, confirmed Pulisic had sustained an injury against the Baggies.
He said: “Christian did a sprint when he came back out for the second half and said that he felt his hamstring would not survive the game if he continued.
“So we had to make the decision to substitute him straight away.
“I hope it’s not too bad. In the beginning, he said he could continue but once he got back out on the field he felt that it was too much and that he couldn’t risk it.
“I hope it is not an injury, just a problem.”
Plenty to prove
Even with this significant caveat, it’s clear Tuchel hasn’t really been sold on Pulisic — despite working with him previously in Germany.
A few cameos from the bench since January have evidently not been enough to change the manager’s mind either.
Furthermore, Pulisic’s insistence that he couldn’t play through the pain against West Brom clearly frustrated Tuchel.
The German was visibly bemused and left with precious little time to adjust his plans before the second half kicked off.
Despite failing to grasp previous opportunities, Tuchel has repeatedly rotated his team since succeeding Frank Lampard as Blues boss.
There is still hope, then, for Pulisic — although the feeling is that he needs to put together a sustained run of form soon.
This Chelsea squad is simply too deep and too competitive for even the most talented players to rest on their laurels.
If Pulisic doesn’t perform, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz, Callum Hudson-Odoi or Mason Mount will gladly step in and take his place.
It’s clear the American is gifted though, and anyone who watched him play early in the season under Lampard will attest to that.
He is still only 22, too. It may just be a case of him finding a way of negotiating this tough period.
Is natural talent enough?
Pulisic gives Chelsea a different dynamic in the final third.
He is, at his best, direct and decisive on the ball: only two players in the Premier League have attempted more take-ons per 90 minutes (6.02).
But he has been good only in patches since his move from Dortmund in the summer of 2019.
Even if knocks have hindered him, 20 Premier League appearances this term should have been enough to establish himself as an integral part of this Chelsea team.
Blues better off?
In truth, Chelsea don’t appear to miss Pulisic when he isn’t playing.
With the American in the side, the Blues have averaged 1.55 points per game. In the ten games without him, they have averaged two points per match.
That should alarm Pulisic, who has work to do to earn Tuchel’s approval.
The fact he has worked under the demanding German tactician previously counts for nothing. It’s time to step up.
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