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Christian Pulisic

Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea, £58m

Profile
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 turned out to be a crucial factor in aiding the young American’s development; it meant he could begin training 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, following that up with a first international goal – to become the USA’s youngest ever scorer – against Bolivia in May 2016. Four days before his 18th birthday, Pulisic also became both Dortmund’s and the USA’s youngest ever Champions league player.

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As Dortmund look to secure their first German title for seven years – they lead rivals Bayern Munich by six points at the halfway stage of the season – Pulisic has seen himself drop down the pecking order a touch. Despite two years of consistent selection in the famous black and yellow, the American has this season 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. With only five Bundesliga starts this term, and question marks surrounding the future of various attacking players in Chelsea’s current squad, his £58m move to west London could prove an exciting next step in the 20-year-old’s 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 potential future teammate Eden Hazard, he also makes snaking, dribbling motions coming in from the touchline that are reminiscent of the Belgian superstar. 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 2017/18 Bundesliga season – is impressive for someone of still tender years. It also suggests he could in time develop into an effective attacking option from the left and even, on occasion, in a central number 10 role. The variety of his play and relative youth gives Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri 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 during his increasingly fleeting appearances – Dortmund boss Lucien Favre has in recent games turned instead to left-back Raphael Guerreiro – while there have been outright poor performances too. Perhaps most starkly, he left the field with Dortmund 2-1 down at Bayer Leverkusen in September – his replacement Sancho created two goals as they fought back to win 4-2.

Technically, Pulisic is also yet to consolidate his play on or around the ball in deeper positions. Inaccurate passes, particularly when playing back to his full-back (above), can put his back line in trouble – something that could prove costly against dangerous Premier League attacks. With Chelsea under Sarri dominating possession in almost all of their fixtures, opponents will look to exploit any mistakes they can on the counter-attack. In this respect, Pulisic will need to tidy up.

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

Role at new club
With the futures of both Eden Hazard and fellow youngster Callum Hudson-Odoi still in some doubt, Pulisic may find himself thrust into the Stamford Bridge spotlight from the very start of his Chelsea career. Should the Blues resist offers from the likes of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, however, they could yet start next season with a youthful and exuberant front trio (below). And, in the shape of Hazard, Pulisic would have a teammate from whom he could learn a huge amount.

If Hazard does depart – and Sarri remains in post at Chelsea – Pulisic could develop into an effective false nine. He has played a number of games as a central attacker for the United States, his brief central spell against England in November showcasing his ability to link with runners in the final third, and Sarri has previous here – witness his conversion of Dries Mertens into a false nine at Napoli.

No matter which role Pulisic ends up filling, he will be expected to contribute both goals and assists. In 115 appearances for Dortmund, he has totalled 15 goals and 24 assists – a combined output of roughly one in every three games. If Chelsea want to be competing for major honours, the American will have to up his return in the final third.

Pulisic is certainly capable of getting nearer to the sorts of attacking returns Hazard has provided this season, which in the Premier League currently stands at 10 goals and nine assists. Here, 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 current 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 Sarri needs to reinvigorate his front line. He certainly has the ability to become the Premier League’s most successful American import.

Christian Pulisic

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