Christian Pulisic has spent most of this season warming Chelsea’s bench — but a stellar World Cup showing has put him back in the limelight.
The man known as Captain America was the United States superhero in Qatar, inspiring Gregg Berhalter’s side into the knockout stages where they eventually exited to the Netherlands in a close encounter.
Grabbing a goal and two assists in four outings, he delivered a timely reminder of just how useful he can be when operating at his blistering best.
As the Blues prepare to restart their Premier League campaign against Bournemouth next Tuesday, we look at what has gone wrong for Pulisic in the capital and what his future may hold.
Star of the show
Pulisic could be forgiven for having forgotten how to shoulder the levels of expectation surrounding him this winter.
At the international level, he remains his nation’s talisman having flown the American flag almost single-handedly in the Bundesliga and Premier League since making his breakthrough in 2016.
The 24-year-old is already his nation’s seventh-highest scorer of all time, netting 22 goals in his first 56 caps despite playing in positions where his primary focus is to create chances for others.
Comparing that with his current status at Chelsea, however, is chalk and cheese.
While he has featured in 13 of the Blues’ 14 top-flight outings this term, 10 of those have come as a substitute — with nine of those cameos lasting under half an hour.
Pulisic has sleepwalked into the role of a bit-part player recently but it has not always been that way for the attacker in West London.
Turning the clock back to 2019-20 — a season in which Frank Lampard guided a youthful Blues side into fourth place and an FA Cup final — Pulisic was arguably his side’s brightest spark.
Making 34 appearances across all competitions, the Pennsylvania-born playmaker netted 11 times and laid on 10 assists, equating to a direct goal contribution in approximately three of every five matches he played.
Though injuries would plague him in early 2020-21, Lampard believed his player’s efforts in the previous campaign more than merited him taking the club’s No10 shirt after Willian left for Arsenal.
Lampard said: “When the number became open, I think what Christian delivered in his first year more than warranted that he gets the shirt and what it means.
“I know it means a lot and there will be a few in that line to try and have that shirt but I was keen for him to have it and very pleased to actually make the call.”
After Lampard lost his job in January 2021, Pulisic fairly quickly established himself as a regular under Thomas Tuchel — yet never managed to hit those same creative heights.
While it is true that hamstring and ankle issues have frequently disrupted his game time, his performance levels have not been up to scratch since that fabulous first season in England.
That led Tuchel to use him far more sparingly before his unceremonious exit early this season, while his replacement Graham Potter has also leaned on the American more as an impact sub in his early tenure.
However, Pulisic’s recent exploits in Qatar have shown he is still capable of unlocking defenses at the highest level — begging questions about whether he should explore his options.
Despite being contracted by the Blues until the summer of 2024, Pulisic was reluctant to close the door fully on a January exit when speaking last week.
He said: “I mean, right now I’m absolutely back at Chelsea and focused and ready to finish the season.
“But you know how things work in football. Things change quickly and anything can happen.
“At the moment I am just pushing myself in training and working at Chelsea because that’s where I am right now.”
One side in the market for a forward are Manchester United, who allowed Cristiano Ronaldo to leave the club by mutual consent earlier this month.
Erik ten Hag has made no secret of his desire to strengthen this winter and the Dutchman’s transitional, counter-attacking style does appear to be tailor-made for Pulisic.
His tantalizing pace and versatility would see him slot seamlessly across the Red Devils’ front three, adding some precious creativity to a side that — despite showing vast improvement this term — have still only scored 20 goals in 14 league games.
Among forwards at the World Cup, Pulisic ranked inside the top 10 for assists, final third passes, chances created, and shots on target.
Arsenal, Liverpool, and Newcastle have also been credited with an interest in the American — and on those figures alone, it is not hard to see why.
Before agreeing to any sale, though, Chelsea may be wise to give their No10 a platform to kickstart his Stamford Bridge career again.
If not, their loss could quite easily be a domestic rival’s significant gain.