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Christian Pulisic

Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea, £58m

Born in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Christian Pulisic had youth spells at a number of clubs – including Brackley Town in England – before making use of his Croatian-born grandfather to gain Croatian citizenship and ease his route into Germany with Borussia Dortmund. This became a crucial factor in aiding the young American’s development; it meant he could train with Dortmund from the age of 16, rather than at 18.

Pulisic joined Dortmund’s youth set-up in early 2015, but head coach Thomas Tuchel soon promoted him into the first-team squad after impressive spells with both the Under-17 and Under-19 development squads. In January 2016, the attacking midfielder made his professional debut at just 17, in a 2-0 home victory over the recently promoted Ingolstadt. Two months later he was handed his first cap for the United States in a 4-0 home win over Guatemala, and he followed that with a first international goal – to become the USA’s youngest ever scorer – against Bolivia in May 2016. Four days before turning 18, Pulisic also became both Dortmund’s and the USA’s youngest ever to play in the Champions League.

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As Dortmund pursued their first German title for seven years – rivals Bayern Munich instead won it for the seventh season in succession – Pulisic became slightly more peripheral. Despite two years of consistent selection in the famous black and yellow, the American had to deal with the arrival of Jadon Sancho (above, left), the re-emergence of former youth teammate Jacob Bruun Larsen, and a number of muscular injuries. Amid Eden Hazard’s departure to Real Madrid, the appointment of Frank Lampard and the manager’s apparent preference for youth, the 20-year-old Pulisic’s £58m move to west London could prove an exciting chapter in his still hugely promising career.

Tactical analysis
Predominantly a right-sided attacking midfielder, Pulisic is equipped with a fantastically quick touch and sharp changes of direction. A similar height to Hazard, he also makes snaking, dribbling motions coming in from the touchline that are reminiscent of the Belgian. Pulisic’s most direct combinations come from within the right inside channel, usually enabling his right-back to provide attacking width (below).

The young American’s ability to retain possession and drive forward – Pulisic attempted more dribbles than anyone else in the Bundesliga throughout 2017/18 – is impressive for someone of still tender years. It also suggests he could develop into an effective attacking option from the left, and even in a central number 10 role. The variety of his play and relative youth gives Chelsea’s new manager Frank Lampard an ideal attacking player to mould around his own philosophy.

Of course, at 20, Pulisic is not the finished product. Consistency is an issue for a player sometimes too keen to impress and there have also been outright poor performances. Perhaps most starkly, he left the field with Dortmund 2-1 down at Bayer Leverkusen in September – and his replacement Sancho created two goals as they fought back to win 4-2.

Technically, Pulisic is also yet to consolidate his play in deeper positions. Inaccurate passes, particularly when playing back to his full-back (above), can put his defence in trouble – something that could prove costly against dangerous Premier League attacks. Given the speed with which so many domestic teams play, opponents will often look to exploit any mistakes they can on the counter-attack. In this respect, Pulisic will need to become more polished.

Chelsea are regardless certain to have done their homework on him, and will be fully aware of the significant potential he brings with him – particularly in an attack-minded 4-3-3 structure.

Role at new club
With Hazard gone and Callum Hudson-Odoi injured, even amid competition from Pedro and Willian, Pulisic may find himself thrust into the Stamford Bridge spotlight from the very start of his Chelsea career.

He could even develop into an effective false nine, having played a number of games as a central attacker for the USA; his brief central spell against England in November showcased his ability to link with runners in the final third.

No matter the role Pulisic ends up filling, he will be expected to contribute both goals and assists, so if Chelsea want to be competing for major honours, the American will have to up his so-far unremarkable return in the final third.

The young attacker’s key attribute is the timing and frequency of his runs in behind opposition defences, as when scoring a late equaliser for 10-man Dortmund at Hoffenheim in September (above). With wide attackers Pedro and Willian both the wrong side of 30 and less able to repeatedly penetrate in behind, Pulisic can offer the pace and movement Chelsea need to reinvigorate their attack. He certainly has the ability to become the Premier League’s most successful American import.

Christian Pulisic

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