Could Graham Potter give US captain Christian Pulisic the pre-World Cup playing time he needs?
The 23-year-old has yet to play a full game for his club this season and needs to build up rhythm with the World Cup just two months away.
Christian Pulisic hasn’t been getting a great deal of playing time with Chelsea so far this season. The 23-year-old has yet to play a full game and has featured in the starting XI just once - in the team’s last Premier League game, against West Ham. Pulisic played just an hour of that game before he was taken off and that was the longest he has spent on-field for his club during the new campaign. That is concerning for a player who will need to be in peak form and at his sharpest when he travels to Qatar with the United States squad for the World Cup which is little over two months’ away.
Pulisic has racked up a total of just 171 minutes of playing time for Chelsea in 2022/23, little more than a quarter of the total amount of possible minutes. His situation might be about to change however. Manager Thomas Tüchel was sacked following the team’s 1-0 defeat to Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League and there is a possibility that new coach Graham Potter may be willing to provide Pulisic with more game-time - especially with matches coming thick and fast from now until mid-November. Between the Premier League, Champions League and EFL Carabao Cup, the Blues have 14 games in the space of nine weeks - in theory, plenty of opportunities for the USMNT captain.
Desperate for playing time
Pulisic was one of several players who were unhappy under Tüchel and sought to leave Stamford Bridge this summer only for the club to block a move elsewhere. While Tüchel’s sacking shocked many in the football world, for Pulisic, it could actually present the opening he has been looking for - a way for him to dislodge the Mount-Sterling-Havertz frontline which the German coach favoured at the beginning of the campaign.
Tüchel’s replacement Graham Potter comes into the job with other ideas and a different approach and it’s easy to see why Chelsea were impressed enough to sign him. The 47-year-old English manager performed wonders with Brighton, who he left in fourth place in the Premier League with Leicester, Leeds, West Ham and Manchester United among their collection of scalps in the opening six games.
Where would Pulisic fit in under Potter?
Potter favours a similar set-up to the one Tüchel had in place at Chelsea and which many other Premier League managers employ - a 3-4-2-1 with attacking wing-backs. And like the German, Potter is open to switching his system depending on the rival. He occasionally reverts to a 4-3-3, a 4-4-2 and has even used a 4-1-4-1 variation although that wouldn’t guarantee any room for Pulisic.
One of Pulisic’s qualities however is his versatility - he can play on either wing or through the middle and that will increase his options under Potter. In fact Pulisic played in practically all of the attacking positions last season although he may need to improve his stats if he is to lock down a regular place. Overall, since he joined Chelsea, Pulisic’s strike rate stands at 0.24 goals per game, not brilliant but marginally better than Mount (0.22) and Havertz (0.21). That said, Pulisic will also now be fighting for a place with summer signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who only made his Chelsea debut last week. Aubameyang is a proven goal scorer but he’s a centre-forward and therefore could be compatible playing alongside the North American in a 3-4-3, or just in front of him in a 3-4-2-1.
Under Potter, Pulisic’s role might become focused on helping to create goal-scoring opportunities for Aubameyang, Sterling or Havertz rather than scoring himself. He may also have to switch over the opposite wing when called on although that wouldn’t be ideal as he tends to play on the left side with the national team. With a marathon of games to get through, there will doubtless be more opportunities for Pulisic in the run-up to the World Cup. Whether it’s enough to get into optimum shape in time for Qatar 2022 is another matter, although remaining match-fit and avoiding injuries, are occupational hazards for every international player when the World Cup comes around.