Should Eden Hazard depart Stamford Bridge this summer and Chelsea’s two-window transfer ban be upheld, then the Blues at least have the consolation of welcoming Christian Pulisic to the Premier League in 2019/20.
The 20-year-old attacking midfielder was signed from Borussia Dortmund for £58m in January but immediately loaned back to the Bundesliga club, where he has spent the last four years of his career.
Pulisic, who penned a five-and-a-half-year contract with the west London side at the beginning of 2019, is now set to join up with his new teammates this summer and make his Premier League bow next season.
With Hazard strongly linked with a move to Real Madrid, Fantasy managers could be losing a premium (and, for some, occasionally frustrating) asset who banked a best-ever 31 attacking returns in 2018/19 and averaged 6.4 FPL points per match in doing so.
To put that in context, Gonzalo Higuain‘s points-per-match average of 3.8 was the next best among Chelsea’s midfielders and forwards.
Although not a like-for-like replacement for Hazard, can Pulisic provide Fantasy Premier League managers with a new, alternative route into the Blues’ attack in 2019/20?
We’ll assess his credentials in this article.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1998, Pulisic spent his formative years with Michigan Rush and development club PA Classic in his native America.
Pulisic’s move to Chelsea won’t actually be his first taste of life in England, with the USA international having spent a year living in Oxfordshire – and representing Brackley Town’s youth side – at the age of seven.
Snapped up by Borussia Dortmund in February 2016, Pulisic was involved in the first-team set-up not even a year later and made his Bundesliga debut as a 68th-minute substitute in a match against FC Ingolstadt at the age of just 17 years and 134 days.
The young prospect went on to make four starts and a further four appearances off the bench in 2015/16, before playing a more prominent role from 2016/17 onwards and becoming a regular starter the following season.
His final year at Dortmund has been an injury-ravaged one, with Pulisic having been sidelined on five different occasions with muscle problems.
The American wunderkind has only featured in the Dortmund starting XI on eight occasions in the Bundesliga this season, though did make a further 11 appearances as a substitute and started five of his side’s Champions League games.
Capped by the United States for the first time in March 2016, Pulisic has gone on to make 25 appearances for his country and has ten international goals to his name.
Above: Christian Pulisic’s record with Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga
Pulisic’s attacking returns have been modest in Germany and he has never been directly involved in ten or more of his side’s goals in a single season – although the figures from Opta above don’t, for example, include “Fantasy assists” for things like penalty awards and shot rebounds.
The USA international has yet to hit the five-goal mark in a single campaign, which is obviously a downside to his appeal as a Fantasy asset in 2019/20.
Chelsea’s most expensive midfield acquisition of all time is still a raw talent, of course, and seven goal involvements in only 833 minutes of league football this season possibly hints at more productive times to come.
From an underlying attacking statistics point of view, Pulisic actually fares well compared to other Chelsea midfielders this season.
|Player||Mins per shot||Mins per shot in box||Mins per shot on target||Mins per big chance||Mins per key pass||Mins per big chance created|
Above: Underlying attacking statistics for Christian Pulisic and Chelsea midfielders in 2018/19. The best statistic in each category is highlighted in bold.
With nine big chances in just 833 minutes of Bundesliga action, Pulisic’s rate of clear-cut opportunities trumps his teammates in the Chelsea midfield.
Significantly, it is also the best among all FPL midfielders with one or more start to their name in 2018/19 (Mohamed Salah‘s rate of big chances was one every 112.3 minutes, by way of comparison).
The American’s rate of shots in the box (one every 37.9) was better than any of Chelsea’s midfielders but the likes of Salah (34.3), Harvey Barnes (34.8) and Riyad Mahrez (36.1) could trump that average.
Still, Pulisic’s rate of attempts in the opposition area was towards the top of the table among Premier League players in his position.
Finishing is an obvious issue, however, with shot accuracy and goal conversion rates of 38.5% and 15.4% respectively well down on the market leaders.
Sadio Mane, for example, had a shot accuracy of 48.3% and a goal conversion rate of 25.3% in 2018/19.
Creativity doesn’t seem to be a forte, either, with his rate of key passes (one every 56 minutes) the same as Ross Barkley‘s and well behind the best-performing midfielders for chance creation (Willian‘s rate of a key pass every 27 minutes being the best in the top flight among players with more than 100 minutes to their name).
Despite his limited game-time in 2018/19, Pulisic’s key performance indicators are heading in the right direction: the American’s rate of goal attempts, shots in the box, efforts on target, big chances, big chances created and key passes all improved on the previous season.
The 2018/19 season wasn’t much of an audition regarding Pulisic’s Fantasy appeal.
A series of injuries have disrupted his campaign and, even when fit, the form of Jadon Sancho has generally kept the USA international out of the side.
Pulisic started four of the first six Bundesliga matches of the season (missing the other two with a muscle strain) but then made the starting XI on just two further occasions in the following seven months, before returning to the line-up at the beginning of May.
Capable of playing anywhere across the attacking midfield positions, Pulisic has mostly been used on the right flank by Dortmund and Sancho’s rapid development in that role has seen the American’s pitch-time restricted.
The underlying statistics we have discussed in the previous section suggest that Pulisic is progressing when it comes to output, although it is fair to say the 20-year-old winger is still being judged on potential rather than attacking returns given his modest goal and assist tallies and his dip in form in 2018/19.
It is easy to forget just how young Chelsea’s £58m acquisition still is, however, with him being on the scene for over three years now.
A move away from Dortmund seems to have come at the right time given Sancho’s meteoric rise and there should be more first-team opportunities at the Bridge next season, even if it is probably too early to say if Pulisic will become a reliable a starter as Hazard.
With Maurizio Sarri unwavering in his use of a 4-3-3, Pulisic seems unlikely to be used in the “number ten” role that he has sporadically taken up previously (he was deployed in “the hole” for his country in the March internationals, for instance).
When asked by ESPN’s Rafael Honigstein if the Blues had given him any indication as to where they would like him to play, Pulisic said:
I think they definitely see me in one of the wider areas but I think they also know that I can play kind of anywhere across the attack. So I’m ready for wherever I need to be filled in really.
Pulisic’s versatility may be an asset given that Hazard could depart this summer, with the Belgian’s wide-left role up for grabs.
It would seem likelier though that, should Hazard leave for La Liga, Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi would tussle for that vacant spot on the left flank – Sarri having previously stated that he views those two players as left-wingers.
Speaking in April, the Chelsea boss said:
Callum is on the left, the best of Hazard is on the left, the best of Willian is on the left. But I only have one left. I am sorry. The three can play but one must adapt himself on the other side.
As Sarri mentioned there, Hudson-Odoi and Willian are capable of playing on the opposite flank – as they have had to do with Hazard still at the club – but it would make more sense that Pedro and Pulisic would be the two players job-sharing on the right wing.
Sarri’s 4-3-3 could potentially give Pulisic the structure he needs to kick on as a player and as a Fantasy asset.
Upon signing for the club, the winger said:
I’ve always appreciated how they’ve played football, and it’s really nice how they play now, with their new coach. It fits me very well.
In further comments to ESPN, Pulisic added:
I think just from watching the games that I have been able to catch this year I just see a system in how their wingers play. It’s just a really good attacking, flowing system, and it’s just football that I like to watch.
I think they like to play out of the back, they’re not afraid to play anywhere on the field and they’re also very free once they get up the field. So it’s just something that I like to see.
A talented dribbler, there have been some question marks over Pulisic’s other attributes including his passing – that certainly is borne out in his chance creation rate highlighted in the statistics section above.
In an interview with Honigstein last summer, player analyst Stefan Reinartz was keen to stress Pulisic’s relative achievements in his age group despite his obvious limitations:
His profile is special. We usually don’t see players scoring this many goals and creating as many assists as he does without being extraordinarily good at bypassing defenders with killer passes, making deep runs to bypass defenders as a receiver or taking up good positions between the lines to bypass players as a receiver. He’s merely at a reasonable level in all of these departments.
A comparison with Bundesliga attacking midfielders under 20 shows that only Ousmane Dembele and Kai Havertz have done better over the last two seasons.
Scouts read his profile as that of a very talented player who is great in the final third and can still progress in all other departments.
Pulisic’s appeal as a Fantasy asset could hinge on three things: whether Hazard leaves the club, whether Chelsea’s transfer ban is upheld and leaves them without the capacity to add more wingers to their squad, and what the American’s price in FPL is next season.
A starting price around the £7.5m-£8.5m mark in FPL would be an acknowledgement of both his undoubted potential and his modest attacking returns with Dortmund, with anything above that perhaps likely to deter Fantasy managers.
Even if Hudson-Odoi, Willian, Pedro and Pulisic are the only four wide-men left at the club come Gameweek 1, there has to be a degree of uncertainty over how “nailed” the American will be next season.
Chelsea have forked out £58m for the USA international and it seems unlikely that he will be sat on the bench for extended periods but it is worth reminding ourselves that Pulisic is still only 20 and may be duly handed carefully by Sarri (as Hudson-Odoi has been) in the early stages of his time in west London.