Pulisic right to choose Chelsea over Liverpool
Background photo: Lachlan Fearnley, CC BY-SA 3.0
No one wants to stand in line. People hate queuing at restaurants, government offices, traffic lights and movie theatres. Footballers hate riding the bench while someone else starts. Christian Pulisic’s £58 million move to Chelsea illustrates the notion.
Pulisic lost time at Borussia Dortmund to teenage England international Jadon Sancho. His contract ran through 2020. He wasn't having it. Dortmund elected to be understanding and receive maximum value for his services from Chelsea. Playing in the Premier League was icing on the cake.
While the option lingered for Pulisic to join former Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, the American chose to work under another master tactician, Maurizio Sarri. A better move couldn’t have panned out.
Pulisic never played for Klopp. His senior-team debut came under Thomas Tuchel. Klopp is a manager who keeps tabs on his youth players, however. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez can attest. At the very least he expects continuity throughout the club, with the youth players learning his system. Pulisic would have been familiar with the German's tactics, methods, and expectations.
That said, the downside weighed heavier. Pulisic would still be on the bench. Maybe three players in the world can break up Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. Two won ten Ballon d'Ors between them and the third costs over €200 million. Liverpool’s sensational trio tallied 84 goals in the 2017/18 Premier League season. Xherdan Shaqiri’s arrival and subsequent success place four world-class players in Pulisic's way.
Klopp uses 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations. Mane, Salah and Shaqiri occupy wide positions, Firmino the middle. As always Salah, Firmino, Mane combine beautifully. Pulisic has similar skills to all three but doesn't approach Salah's finishing rate or Firmino's command and positioning. Mane is the most vulnerable of the three, but he offers more pace than the 20-year-old. At any rate, Klopp wouldn’t risk breaking such a fruitful combination just to craft Pulisic into the eleven. Nor would the US international sign for Liverpool to spend his time on the bench.
Pulisic’s life at Chelsea will be full of possibilities. His record transfer fee for an American adds to the hype that already surrounds him stateside. The New Jersey native's humility allows him to deal comfortably with being American soccer's golden boy. The Premier League circus shouldn't faze him. Aside from the huge marketing potential Chelsea gains from signing the game's first truly global American superstar, the club believes in the player's talent.
Willian and Pedro flatter to deceive this season. Both are in their 30s. Their future at Chelsea isn’t long. When Pulisic arrives this summer, a starting place will be up for grabs.
The attention Eden Hazard receives from Real Madrid might open the competition wider. If the Belgian stays at Stamford Bridge, the attention he receives from opponents will free up space for Pulisic on the right flank. Either way, the Blue-in-waiting stands to rejuvenate Chelsea’s front line.
Although the left was his natural side before he made way for Marco Reus and Jadon Sancho, the American can play either wing or the No.10. When Maurizio Sarri uses a striker, he can slot in on the right or in behind. When the Italian plays Hazard as a false nine, he can occupy the left wing.
Without Hazard in the team, expect Pulisic to be given greater responsibility. He's already the focal point for the United States squad. Like the pre-2018/19 Hazard, Pulisic isn't known as a prolific scorer but who is to say Sarriball won't change that as it has for the Belgian?
Pulisic is destined to be a key cog for Maurizio Sarri. The former Napoli boss loves players who keep possession and press high up the pitch. If Hazard stays, the pair may become one of the Premier League's dynamic combinations, like David Silva and Sergio Aguero or Firmino and Salah. If he leaves, then Christian Pulisic may suddenly be the man at Chelsea.