Christian Pulisic was confident his third season at Chelsea was going to be different, that the injuries that had disrupted his previous two campaigns would not be repeated.
“This year is my first real full pre-season at Chelsea and it’s just given me a good chance to get my full fitness and for me to get 100% fit and ready to play 90 minutes once the season begins,” the American star explained in an interview for Chelsea’s website in the summer.
“That’s the aim for me, just trying to get my body in a good place where I can be available as much as possible this season. Hitting the ground running at the start of the season is the goal, of course. It’s nice to be able to have a full pre-season this time and get nice and fit and be 100% ready in time for the start of the season.”
Pulisic was as good as his word. He was available and started the UEFA Super Cup win against Villarreal in Belfast. Three days later, he was in the side and on the scoresheet as Chelsea began their Premier League season with a 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace.
Then, misfortune. Ahead of an open training session at Stamford Bridge, Pulisic discovered he had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to self-isolate for ten days. The 23-year-old, who is vaccinated, missed the games against Arsenal and Liverpool as a result.
He was able to join up with the USMNT for the previous round of international fixtures. Yet during a win over Honduras, he suffered an ankle injury and has been ruled out for the past four weeks.
Chelsea have played seven games without the winger in that period and while results have largely been positive, the attack hasn’t quite clicked.
Romelu Lukaku has become isolated in recent outings with Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech out of form and Mason Mount absent through an injury of his own. It’s why Thomas Tuchel turned to Timo Werner and Callum Hudson-Odoi against Southampton.
However, after the international break, the Chelsea head coach should be able to call upon Pulisic as football.london understands the U.S. star is expected to return to first-team training next week.
All being well, Pulisic may make his return to Chelsea action against Brentford, although almost certainly from the substitutes’ bench. He will have to be eased back into the fold by Tuchel as not to risk further injury.
Yet when fully up to speed, Pulisic offers the Blues a unique threat in attack. Unlike Mount, Havertz, Ziyech, Werner and Hudson-Odoi, he is a ball carrier and penalty-box threat in equal measure.
Last term, per FBRef, no attacking player for Chelsea completed more dribbles per 90 in the Premier League than Pulisic (2.83 per 90). And his expected goals per 90 (0.28 per 90) only trailed Havertz and Werner, who often played through the centre of the attack.
The season prior, Pulisic’s output was even higher. So the challenge for the winger on his return is to replicate the numbers he posted in 2019/20 under Frank Lampard.
An intriguing subplot to that is how he will link up with Romelu Lukaku, who Pulisic has yet to play alongside. The Belgian has struggled for service in his last six matches but the direct running of Pulisic may drag opponents away from the striker and open up space in which to thrive. It is a tantalising prospect.
Since arriving at Stamford Bridge in the summer of 2019 from Borussia Dortmund, Pulisic has missed 35 Chelsea matches due to injury or illness. That is far too many, even though there can be no blame placed upon the Blues’ No.10.
Pulisic hoped for better this term, that injuries would be avoided. That hasn’t happened. Yet given his quality and with more than two thirds of the campaign still to play, this can still be prove the USMNT star’s breakout season in Chelsea colours.