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Pulisic’s Premier League debut a forgettable one, but it’s just the first step on a long road

You could see the look of disappointment on Christian Pulisic’s face as he walked around Old Trafford on Sunday after Chelsea’s 4-0 humbling by Manchester United. He had every reason to be disgusted with how his team fell apart in the second half, but he could also have been excused if deep down he also felt dejected about not being able to do more in his English Premier League debut.

Left out of the starting lineup by Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, Pulisic came on as a 58th-minute substitute with the Blues trailing by a goal, but a pair of goals two-minutes apart shortly after Pulisic’s arrival spoiled any hopes for a storybook substitute’s appearance.

As far as debuts go, Pulisic’s was largely forgettable. Not because he played poorly, but because his team was collapsing around him as he tried to impose himself on the game.

Pulisic completed all 12 passes he attempted, including one that nearly turned into an assist only to have David De Gea deny a shot by Emerson Palmieri. He also completed three successful dribbles out of six attempted, including one that saw him blow by Aaron Wan-Bissaka before Paul Pogba crashed into him with a hard foul.

Pogba knows all about expectations, and what it feels like to exceed them, as well as what it’s like to fall well short of them. Perhaps that knowledge led him to offer Pulisic some words of encouragement after the match. Chances are they included a reminder to not dwell on the loss too long because Sunday was just the first match in what will be a long season.
American soccer fans surely felt knots in their stomachs when they saw Chelsea’s lineup on Sunday morning, a lineup that didn’t include Pulisic. There was an inevitable sense of panic at the thought that Pulisic might find himself in a situation similar to last season’s at Borussia Dortmund, when he found regular starts tough to come by.

Ultimately, Lampard chose to start Mason Mount rather than Pulisic, giving the Chelsea academy product — who spent a season on loan playing under Lampard at Derby Count last season — the nod in the central playmaker role. That pushed Ross Barkley wide, into the left wing role Pulisic was expected to fill.

Mount held his own, particularly in a first half when you could argue Chelsea was the better team, but Barkley struggled to make an impact on the wing, which led to him being the player sacrificed when Lampard turned to Pulisic.

Lampard clearly rates Mount, and the experience they gained working together at Derby County gives Mount an advantage over Pulisic, at least early on. Though they don’t play the same position, they are indirectly battling for time, along with Barkley, and Willian once he returns from injury.

Pulisic fans who came away from Sunday’s developments worried about his standing should take heart in the fact that Chelsea has invested a lot into Pulisic, and that sizable investment makes him a player the club is going to want to see have his chance in the starting lineup eventually.

Another concern for American soccer fans anxious about Pulisic’s new home is whether Chelsea is destined for a down year. Having sold Eden Hazard, and facing a transfer ban, the Blues are facing a tough road to a top-four finish in the Premier League.

That being said, you can’t look at Sunday’s loss without considering the players Chelsea was missing. N’Golo Kante made a cameo off the bench, but is still working his way back from a knee injury. Antonio Rudiger was sorely missed in central defense on Sunday, and Willian was also sidelined by an injury. Throw in the fact Lampard started Tammy Abraham in place of Olivier Giroud, and Palmieri in place of Marcos Alonso, and you realize that the lineup Chelsea deployed on Sunday could wind up looking very different from the preferred lineup Lampard winds up settling on a month from now.

In other words, don’t go freaking out about Pulisic’s spot on Chelsea’s bench just yet. He may not have had the debut he and his fans were hoping for, but Pulisic didn’t look at all out of place, or overawed by the moment. He looked very much like a player capable of handling himself, and a player determined to succeed.

The storybook Premier League debut may not have happened for Pulisic on Sunday, but there will be more chances for him to shine in the coming weeks and months.


  1. Did not watch the game but did watch the extended highlights and it showed Chelsea having several good scoring opportunities in the first half. In fact, I think every highlight was Chelsea shooting on goal. Maybe the game wasn’t as bad as the score shows?

    • First half was very even, Chelsea should probably have scored first, hitting the post twice. But the warning signs were there defensively. Wheels came off in the second half, Man U hit them on the counter repeatedly, scoring twice and putting the game away. Really terrible transition defense by Chelsea all game, really.

  2. Mason Mount is a work in progress and shows potential. But he played in the Championship last year and that is a long way off from playing for Dortmund and Champions League football. Likewise Ross Barkley played for Everton, also nowhere near the quality club as Dortmund. I hope Lampard/Mount isn’t a Berlhter//Zardes situation, but Lampard seemed overly defensive
    reacting to Mourinho’s criticism of Mount. No way that Pulisic should be competing for time with Barkley or Mount (Willian yes)and this along with very naive defensive tactics and unloading Luis unnecessarily and playing Zouma (another Everton product) in his stead shows is concerning. As much of a legend as Lamps is, he still only has a year coaching experience in the Championship. If I was a diehard Chelsea fan this would make me very nervous.

  3. Transfer ban, no big signings and an inexperienced coach; It looks like Chelsea gave up on this season even before it began. I can’t say I blame them.

  4. Not sure if this factors at all but they do have a quick turn-a-round with the SuperCup on Wednesday.

    Wonder what the lineup looks like and how important a first tropthy will be for Lampard.

    Logic says its not a priority and didnt factor. So to me, hope for another sub appearance and a full go vs Leceister on sunday.

    Article summed up CPs first appearance nicely. He did have an over hit cross to Giroud that shld have been better but nitpicky. Game was in the books at that point.

    Sticking to Chelseas front, a better performing target man yest. would have made a difference. Remember Abraham leaving CP hanging – either a ball behind CPs run or cldnt get it out of his feet.

    Ugh, hate rooting for chelsea….dortmund was so much more fun to watch.

  5. Anyone know why the replays on NBC or NBCSN are accessible only for NBC Gold subscribers? Is this a new policy? I thought the matches that were on NBCSN were still available as replays to anyone as long as they had a valid cable/satellite provider.

    • I think they started that last year when they introduced Gold. NBC is trying to capitalize more on EPL now that it’s been successful for them for the past few years.

  6. Quote from Lampard:
    “If the game had carried on at 1-0, or we were back in the game as we should have been, he would have been a great injection. In the end it was difficult for him because the game went quickly away from us.”
    Pulisic will get his time.

  7. One of the few times I agree with the accuracy of an SBI headline. It truly was forgettable for Pulisic. I couldn’t really think of a “memorable” play that CP made, except that quick turn when Pobga plowed into him. No one believed he would be handed starts just because the club spent a lot of money on him; he has a lot of work ahead to prove his worth, even compared to a kid (Mount) who was playing championship soccer last season. Stay healthy, contribute when you get on the field, you will get your chances.

    • So, are you implying playing in the second division in England is a higher level than first division football in Germany? Or are you saying Mount would always be preferred because he played under Lamps last year?

      • I’m not pushing some anti-American player conspiracy. I’m saying that Lampard is obviously more familiar with Mount and was impressed enough to bring him back to Chelsea with him; that’s gotta count for something. Meanwhile CP had a tough season competing with Sancho and others for minutes. Fortunately, CP has always carried a reputation of being a hard worker and drama-free; The fans may be disappointed that he’s not on Hazard’s level (they’re idiots if they thought that before), but I think they will appreciate his work ethic and ability.

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