Christian Pulisic's Wembley dream turns to agony

Christian Pulisic's 45 minutes and 48 seconds in Saturday's English FA Cup final encapsulated his first season with Chelsea.

In his first Wembley final, the 21-year-old American gave the Blues a 1-0 lead against London rival Arsenal after only five minutes, scoring a brilliant goal from close range to finish off a play he started inside the Chelsea half of the field.

But seconds into the second half with the score tied 1-1, he broke away on a counterattack only to pull up right before he fired his shot wide of the goal, falling to the ground in agony. He left the game with a strained hamstring, and Arsenal rallied to win, 2-1.

For two long stretches in the season, Pulisic was excellent for Arsenal. The first patch began in October when he scored five goals in three games, including a hat trick against Burnley. He became only the second American after Clint Dempsey to score three goals in a game in the Premier League.

Since the Premier League's restart in June, Pulisic scored five goals and added two assists and created two goals by being fouled on plays Willian converted from the penalty spot and a third goal from a free kick by the Brazilian teammate after he was fouled.

Pulisic, in sum, was a big reason Chelsea held on to clinch fourth place and a berth in the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League, quite an accomplishment considering the team's youth and a FIFA ban on participating on the transfer market last summer.

Pulisic, who arrived on a $73 million transfer from Borussia Dortmund in a deal completed in January 2019 in anticipation that Chelsea might not be allowed to operate on the summer market, was also dogged by injuries, as he was in his last season in Germany.

An adductor injury suffered in training in early January kept him out of action until the Premier League shut down in March. It was more than five months that he didn't play until the return to play on June 21 when he came off the bench to score in a 2-1 win over Aston Villa.

Pulisic played 11 games in 42 days after the restart, one of the most intense stretches of his career. Chelsea manager Frank Lampard praised his young American for his work with the club's fitness staff. But there were signs of the toll it was taking on Pulisic, whose bursts of speed are a trademark of his game.

In the 1-0 FA Cup quarterfinal win at Leicester City on June 28, Lampard pulled him at the second-half water break because he was experiencing tightness in his calf. Lampard didn't play him in the FA Cup semifinal against Manchester City and didn't start him in the Premier League game at Liverpool because of what he described as a "minor injury." When Pulisic came on at Liverpool in the second half, he reduced the Reds' lead from 4-1 to 4-3 in 14 minutes with a goal and an assist. Liverpool went on to win, 5-3.

Pulisic's goal in the fifth minute on Saturday summed up everything that Lampard has praised him for doing -- showing a willingness to come into the middle, taking the ball quickly at defenders and following up on the play.

In a play that began with Pulisic 15 yards in the Chelsea half, he flicked a ball forward to French forward Olivier Giroud, took the ball back two passes later, turned and drove at the Arsenal goal. He played the ball off to Mason Mount charging down the left side and ran into the penalty area to take the return pass Giroud flicked on from Mount. Pulisic then beat Scotsman Kieran Tierney with his first touch and danced in alone on Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, whom he beat to the Argentine's right.

Pulisic wasn't the only Chelsea player who was injured in the final. Spanish defender Cesar Azpilicueta left the match in the 35th minute with a hamstring injury. Pedro, who replaced Pulisic, dislocated his shoulder in the final minutes of his last game for Chelsea. The Spanish veteran was in such pain he was administered oxygen as he left the field. N'Golo Kante injured his hamstring on July 4 and didn't play again. Willian was injured and missed the deciding Premier League game against Wolves and didn't play in the FA Cup final.

Arsenal, which finished eighth in Premier League, was clearly the better team in the final, but Lampard said the game turned on Pulisic's injury.

"In the second half," he said, "we came out brighter. If Christian goes through and scores as opposed to missing and doing his hamstring -- well, the circumstances in the game conspired against us. It’s been a busy period for us. The players have given everything."

Lampard said Chelsea shouldn't get too stuck on the disappointment of the final.

"Over the season, as a whole, what we have managed to do, come where we did in the league, is a huge plus for us," he said. "Today would have been the icing on the cake but it wasn’t to be."

Perspective that might be good to summarize the ups and downs of Pulisic's first season in England.

19 comments about "Christian Pulisic's Wembley dream turns to agony".
  1. frank schoon, August 2, 2020 at 9:12 a.m.

    " A brilliant goal", the if this goal will be sent around the world to all the news desks for it's 'brilliance'. I can just imagine what a Brazilian thinks upon waking up in the morning and reading SA description and then seeing the video of Pulisic's  goal.. Can we just cool down the hyperboles...please. 

    Pulisic should not be playing in England for the style they played there does not fit his abilities, nor his body build, IT IS TOO TAXING. Having to make 50meter runs with power does not fit his style of play. He needs to play on a team that plays compact, with no more with than about 9 or 10 meters between the lines and players and move as a unit up and down. This will require less running for everyone ,especially Pulisic. 

    His offensive threat should only come when in the opponents third. There ,if needed, he can make perhaps a quick 5-10 meter sprint. He needs to stay wide  forcing the opponents back line to spread; able to position himself in a manner that allows him to be 1v1 with the back. A short sprint then can effect the opponents backline to move or shift and leave a gap for the attackers to move into. If he beats his direct opponent (back) he will end up creating a 2v1 situation, forcing perhaps the centerback to move out of position, has to make choices and is forced to either look at his own man or the ball but can't do both. It becomes a big scramble than..NEXT POST

  2. Santiago 1314 replied, August 3, 2020 at 6:14 p.m.

    Yes Frank, as I stated before... A Tiki Taka Player... I wonder who plays that System,???

  3. frank schoon, August 2, 2020 at 9:31 a.m.

    Pulisic also has to improve his game, for it's too predictable. He has that energy and wants to run as his first option,thus making it only easier for a defender to read Pulisic, which in the defender not having to worry about closing down a passing lane(s) or  having to guess what Pulisic wants to do. Pulisic's attack needs to become more complicated for the defender, which would not only add to Pulisic's game but also create more space for him to operate in...What I'm saying is that Pulisic needs to start working on his passing capabilities, especially with the outside of the foot and backspins to drop for players on the run, as well as with the full instep pass for hard ,low diagonal balls.

    As far as I can tell, right now, the team he plays on has too much counterattacking , too much run and gun, little thinking and lots of fighting....Welcome to English soccer...I remember Arjan Robben playing in England usually  injured a lot but it wasn't until he left England he developed and picked up better and smarter attacking options ,for example that shot on the dribble which bends around players, his shielding as he dribbles and more importantly he came into his own and established a presence. But it is difficult in England where everything is straight lines, straight forward and lots of running to improve one's game. I like to see him get out of England thus having left two countries that don't help his game.....


  4. Peter Kurilecz, August 2, 2020 at 9:58 a.m.

    "For two long stretches in the season, Pulisic was excellent for Arsenal."

    someone needs to do some fact checking

  5. Ginger Peeler, August 2, 2020 at 10:20 a.m.

    I've been watching college and professional American football and professional soccer, along with our USNational men's and women's soccer teams for 60 plus years. I've seen lots of hamstring injuries; enough that I usually call it immediately, before the commentators. But never, ever, before have I seen a soccer player feel the hamstring go and still keep running in order to get off a shot on goal. Pulisic did just that while screaming through the pain. That sheer determination indicates the drive that runs this young man. When he joined our MNT, I worried about the intense pressure we Americans were putting on him. To proclaim him our "savior" when only a teenager was totally unfair to him. Yet he has graciously held up under the massive expectations while calmly and quietly continuing to steadily improve. He will not be denied.

    Yes, Frank, I know Cruyff would have run twice as far as Pulisic after feeling his hamstring go, and would have scored a magnificent goal (probably while nutmegging the keeper) to properly finish the play.

    But I have to honor and admire the sheer grit and drive and maturity that Pulisic displays. Whenever he scores a goal, the commentators immediately point out that he is a product of the USA). He does us proud!

  6. frank schoon replied, August 2, 2020 at 10:53 a.m.

    Sorry, Ginger, but Cruyff didn't think running was the answer but quick ball movement allowing the ball do the running , not the man for nothing is faster than the ball. He found players that have to rely on running as "dumb"'s all about intelligent play and intelligent ball movement. That is why you won't see Cruyff get himself in that position that Pulisic was in and hurt himself.  This also is why you don't see  players like Zlatan run like that or other greats. This is his Pulisic's second injury in such a short time in England, maybe something is telling him....

  7. ARISTIDES SASTRE replied, August 2, 2020 at 2:55 p.m.

    Bravo Ginger.  Your comments are supported by many of our SA readers.  Pulisic's biggest problem (according to one of our fellow readers) is simply that he has no Dutch background.

  8. Seth Vieux replied, August 2, 2020 at 4:40 p.m.

    Ginger and Aristides you are both spot on. Frank, where should Pulisic be playing? You said the same things for years in your constant criticism of the Bundesliga.... and yet highlighted a Dutch player who did not handle English football well yet thrived in Germany?? Certainly there are some similarities between Pulisic and Robben... is Bundesliga only a good spot if you're playing for the best team, just not the second best team? Robben started playing for Chelsea at roughly the same age as Pulisic right? Pulisic has scored 9 in 25 games, Robben scored 15 goals in 67 games at Chelsea. Think Pulisic has at least 6 more goals in him over his next 42 premier league matches? Both players also broke in to first teams at relatively similar ages... are Robben's 25 goals over 102 matches at Groningen and PSV more impressive than Pulisic's 10 over 81 at Dortmund? Perhaps if you believe the Erividese is on par with the Bundesliga.... but clearly those similar years in their careers prepared Pulisic as well or better for playing in the EPL. Should Pulisic seek a transfer to Ajax? Should he follow in Robben's path and head to Real Madrid? If not them maybe Barcelona? Staying in England is out for you so Liverpool or ManCity are out.... in your mind, how can this extremely talented young player improve his situation over Chelsea where he is thriving?

  9. frank schoon replied, August 2, 2020 at 6:52 p.m.

    Seth, Robben matured under Guardiola at Bayern and realize Bayern did not play German style but more of a Dutch Ajax/Barcelona blend . Due to  Guardiola Bayern employed foreign wingers and had a foreign centerforward, making their style of attack and play non-German this manner and environment Robben thrived.
     Furthermore ,Robben, played at Bayern when Van Gaal coached before Guardiola, which began really the Dutch/Spanish influence at Bayern, all which helped Robben develop his game.   Unfortunately, under Dortmund and Chelsea , Pulisic has continued the same running style of play.  What would help if Pulisic would play for City under Guardiola.

    i'm not in the business of comparing of who scores more goals, that is so simplistic. That is not how I look at the game, or judge players on . As matter of fact the best player on a team can be a player that doesn't even score or for that matter a player can have played a great game and rarely touched the ball. Remember a player at the most has the ball for maybe a total of 2 minutes...what does he do the other 88 , that ,to me is more important.     

    Where Pulisic should play is on side down the field where he is most likely get himself in 1v1 situation with a back and he needs someone in the line behind who has a good pass and can send him

  10. frank schoon replied, August 2, 2020 at 7:07 p.m.

    Aristide, Pulisic problem has nothing to do with being not Dutch but getting injured a lot...that is where the discussion need to go...

  11. Seth Vieux replied, August 2, 2020 at 11:06 p.m.

    Frank I agree with just about everything in this post other than the foreign wingers/9s which I mistakenly addressed in a sub-comment below, just don't think you've spent much time watching him actually play at either Dortmund or Chelsea. Fair enough point on goals not being everything, and would encourage you to see how many opportunities Pulisic has created that weren't put away over the last 3-4 years. Kid is a baller and he's just getting started.

  12. Paul Nick, August 2, 2020 at 1:56 p.m.

    Thank You Ginger

  13. Alan Blackledge, August 2, 2020 at 3:38 p.m.

    I witnessed a totally different Cruyff with theDiplomsts Frank. Constantly dribbling and complaining at the he did in the 74 World Cup final the entire 2nd half.
    Cruyff highlight films show him doing a significant amount of dribbling.

  14. Seth Vieux replied, August 2, 2020 at 4:44 p.m.

    Bingo, and coming from a player who idolized Cruyff, I can also watch his old films and see that he was a legend in his time, but not so skilled or brilliant that he has no equals (and better) in the modern game.

  15. frank schoon replied, August 2, 2020 at 7:05 p.m.

    Alan, it is not a question of dribbling but what Cruyff creates off the dribble. It is what you do with a dribble. Any idiot can dribble, any idiot  can run, that has nothing to do with playing soccer. I watched Cruyff when  he was with the Diplomats and if he complained or question the ref...So What! I enjoyed watching him play as so many other fans in the stadium.  And I don't know why complaining is even brought up  in the discussion, unless I read the article wrong...

  16. Seth Vieux replied, August 2, 2020 at 11:01 p.m.

    Frank you should maybe watch more Chelsea minutes, or at least Pulisic's recent goals...he is making the most intelligent movements off the ball of the whole squad and playing in combination with others on the majority of his goals. Would I rather see him with Pep than Lampard? Of course. Did Dortmund also employ several foreign wingers and #9s throughout his Dortmund days as well as at Chelsea? Absolutely. I mean he was effectively raised by Klopp and Tuchel trying time stick to Klopp's plan right? Is Klopp's German blood preventing him from matching or surpassing Pep's genius??? Were/are Aubameyang, Alcacer or Giroud typical German or English 9s? Did either Dortmund or Chelsea rely on domestic players for the majority of their attacking strength? 

  17. R2 Dad, August 2, 2020 at 5:04 p.m.

    I suspect that this issue of fatigue and injury has become the underlying problem that all clubs must face without actually pushing for change. In Pulisic's case, he announced ahead of the match he was fit, seemingly to preclude any club announcements of that calf muscle meant he should be a sub for the FA Cup Final. CP wanted to start, and wanted at least 60 minutes. Turns out his body could only handle 45. So the cautious coaching staff, which wanted to protect the investment/health of the player lost out to the player ego and now CP will be out for 6 months.
    He should dial back his ego in order to prolong his career. There is no shame in this, as the league is a run-and-gun, physical league that doesn't allow a rest around the new year (this virus season being a complete anomaly). 
    As to Franks point, Dortmund was the ideal scenario for him to mature and grow--it's just that the business fosters trades and egos ahead of common sense. 3 more years in Germany would have developed him further, even if it was at nemesis Bayern.

  18. Bob Ashpole, August 2, 2020 at 7:17 p.m.

    A couple of points.

    Chelsea is having far too many injuries to its attacking players. It indicates there may be a systemic problem.

    11 games in 42 days is ridiculous.

    Frank is correct about Pulisic playing somewhere else. The problem is team tactics, not geography.

    A general response to all, the tactical problem is not in how one player plays, but rather how the whole team plays. 

    When Frank says "plays compactly" he means plays a possession style game through and occupying the middle third with relatively close spacing between the lines before playing more directly in the attacking third. This means that all players' runs are greatly reduced in length compared to a more typical team like Chelsea. Ball circulation wears the opponent out constantly adjusting.

  19. Goal Goal, August 2, 2020 at 7:24 p.m.

    You should go back and take a look at at the last u15; u16 and u17 US National Teams.  That was there theory.  Run your arse off.  That is why the U17's had such great success in the World Cup.

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