Christian Pulisic enters the most
critical week of his first season in England in the best form since he arrived at Chelsea.
Yes, he scored five Premier League goals -- his first with Chelsea -- in the span of two weeks last fall. But he later broke down, suffering an adductor injury after New Year's Day that kept him out until play resumed in June, a span of five months.
What Pulisic has done since the restart is shown he can handle the physical demands of the Premier League. He has played eight games in 24 days and emerged as the go-to player in the Chelsea attack.
The Blues have scored 11 goals in seven Premier League games since play resumed, and Pulisic has been involved in seven of them, scoring goals in wins over Aston Villa, Manchester City and Crystal Palace, assisting on Olivier Giroud's winner against Norwich City on Tuesday and being fouled to set up three goals -- two from the penalty spot and one on a free kick -- by Brazilian teammate Willian.
The next week features three more games -- the Sunday's FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United at Wembley Stadium and Premier League matches against Liverpool and
Wolves that will decide whether Chelsea will return to the UEFA Champions League in 2020-21. (It has a Champions League round-of-16 match against Bayern Munich in August but trails the series, 3-0,
after losing at home in February.)
Ahead of Sunday's game at Wembley, Frank Lampard said he has seen a noticeable change in Pulisic in the last month.
“I have seen a real improvement in his all-round game,” said the first-year Chelsea manager. “Coming to the Premier League is very difficult because of the physical nature of the league and we have to remember how young he is and the summer he had."
Pulisic played for the USA at the 2019 Gold Cup and jumped right into preseason with Chelsea on tour in Asia. The low point came in early October when Lampard didn't dress Pulisic, who arrived from Borussia Dortmund with a $73 million price tag, for Chelsea's Champions League win over Lille. Still, Lampard believed in the young American, saying after the Lille game that it wasn't uncommon for a player to take some time to get settled and to adapt to life in England.
“I think he found those physical demands pretty strong in the beginning and now you are seeing him deal with it better," Lampard said on Saturday. "A lot of that can be credited to himself and how he has approached it. He has worked a lot with our strength and conditioning coach, Adam Burrows, who is fantastic. They have worked a lot together, but it is Christian who has to take on that responsibility and he has. Physically, that has helped him."
Lampard said he wants more of the same from Pulisic.
"Looking forward," he said, "I probably want to see more of what he has shown in recent times, which is goals and assists, because that is what the best in the world do in that position. I feel he has the capability to do that as he improves. That can be the edge as his game goes on and moves on levels.”