All signs this summer seemed to point towards a Chelsea exit for American star Christian Pulisic, who has failed to earn significant minutes under Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel in recent months.
Now, those plans seem scuppered, leaving Pulisic to pick up the pieces and get on with life at Stamford Bridge. With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar fast approaching, the setting is less than ideal for the centerpiece of the US national team.
The source of the U-turn is reportedly an unlikely one, with a fellow American putting the kibosh on any opportunities for Pulisic to earn minutes and build form elsewhere.
It’s a massive blow not just to Pulisic, but to the USMNT as well, as head coach Gregg Berhalter hopes to have a squad in top form heading into the winter tournament, which begins in late November.
MORE: The latest USMNT transfer news and rumors as the 2022 summer window nears its close
Christian Pulisic loan blocked by Todd Boehly
According to a report by Paul Tenorio of The Athletic on August 29, just three days before the summer transfer deadline, Pulisic is destined to stay at Chelsea, with new American owner Todd Boehly overriding any external approaches inquiring about Pulisic’s availability. James Olley of ESPN corroborated this news with his own report on August 30.
Tenorio’s report states that multiple clubs showed interest, from fellow Premier League sides Manchester United and Newcastle to other unnamed “Champions League clubs” in Italy and Spain. The report notes that Pulisic was open to multiple options, including a contract extension at Chelsea to make a loan logistically easier to construct.
However, Boehly “decided against allowing a loan move” according to Tenorio. Pulisic is “understood to be disappointed in the decision,”.
It’s notable that the club’s new American owner would scrap the chance for the national team’s best attacking player to earn minutes on loan elsewhere ahead of the World Cup.
It’s unknown why Boehly, who also owns the L.A. Dodgers in the U.S. professional league Major League Baseball, would deny the chance for Pulisic to move on loan this window, especially after Callum Hudson-Odoi was allowed to depart for Bayer Leverkusen the same day. It could be reasonably speculated that he values the American connection that Pulisic brings to the club, which would be a short-sighted approach to handling a player of massive importance to the US national team. Pulisic could easily be allowed to depart on loan for the season without losing his presence at the club on a permanent basis, especially if the player were as willing to amend his contract as the Athletic report states.
Where will Pulisic’s minutes come from at Chelsea?
Currently, Pulisic is stuck behind Tuchel’s preferred attacking trio of Raheem Sterling, Kai Havertz, and Mason Mount up front. He has failed to start any of the first five Premier League matches of the season, including the midweek affair against Southampton where Tuchel maintained the regular front three despite a very quick turnaround.
If Chelsea were to move for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as is being heavily reported in the dying days of the transfer window, it would bury the USMNT star even further on the Chelsea depth chart.
There is still a chance, however, that Pulisic may find minutes at Chelsea, and a lot can happen in the next few months.
Kai Havertz in particular has struggled mightily up front and it could lead Tuchel to tinker with his options. The German has failed to produce a single shot on target over the last two Premier League matches and has just two over the team’s first four games of the season. Any further faith from Tuchel risks appearing to show favoritism for his countryman.
Kai Havertz is regarded as a world class talent. Christian Pulisic is regarded as a flop. Here are their “per 90 minute” stats since Kai arrived at Chelsea in the Autumn of 2020. This DOES NOT include “lockdown Pulisic”. Premier League & Champions League stats only. pic.twitter.com/twghA6XBjl
— MATTY (@sporty280) August 16, 2022
Mount, meanwhile, has been tasked with more dirty work than in years past and is producing, averaging over three successful tackles per Premier League match thus far and delivering 1.5 key passes per game in the build-up. Still, his shot conversion rate has also been putrid, ripping off just five shots through the opening four matches with a total xG (expected goals) figure of 0.47, putting just two of those efforts on target.
It’s even more worrying that Hakim Ziyech was chosen over Pulisic for the midweek match against Southampton, with Tuchel needing an extra forward due to the short rest and absence of Reece James, which forced a formational change. Ziyech has been rumored to be exploring an exit of his own, and for Tuchel to turn his way despite the noise is a massive blow to Pulisic’s chances of earning minutes in the near future.
Pulisic on the bench again at the expense of Ziyech, who has wanted out and been considered expendable all summer. Not allowed to leave, not trusted to start – an unenviable and understandably frustrating situation #CFC
— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) August 30, 2022
Following the summer departures of Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner, it’s entirely possible that Pulisic could break into that rotation with a few good performances. However, the arrival of Aubameyang would be devastating to the American’s prospects of earning a spot.
The former Arsenal man has torn La Liga apart in his brief time at Barcelona and looks a totally rejuvenated player despite turning 33 in June, only deemed surplus to requirements at the Camp Nou after the arrival of superstar Robert Lewandowski.
Chelsea are also reportedly in for a big-money swoop of 21-year-old Everton forward Anthony Gordon.
How will Gregg Berhalter factor in Pulisic’s lack of playing time?
If Pulisic’s fortunes at Chelsea do not improve drastically over the next few months, USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter will have no choice but to consider his lack of form heading into the World Cup.
It feels inconceivable that Pulisic, a bonafide star in the United States, would not be considered an everyday starter for the USMNT in the game’s biggest tournament, but it’s possible if his playing time remains sparse.
Brenden Aaronson is in spectacular form at Leeds to start the Premier League season and feels a lock to start somewhere for the United States, while there are other American forwards also pushing for time. Gio Reyna is slowly working his way back from his injury-plagued season last year and figures to be a key part of the Borussia Dortmund attack. Tim Weah is sidelined with a foot injury at Lille but could be heavily involved in Qatar as well if he recovers soon and hits the ground running.
There’s absolutely no chance that a healthy Pulisic could be somehow left off the roster entirely, but a lack of club playing time could give Berhalter pause on whether to make Pulisic an every-game starter for the United States at the World Cup if other options present themselves.
Pulisic must put his head down at Chelsea
As frustrating as the situation at Stamford Bridge must be for Pulisic, he has no choice but to put his head down and work.
Other than refusing to show up for training, Pulisic has little options but to honor his contract and attempt to earn a place in the team, no matter what other players are present in the squad.
It’s too late to force his way out, with the transfer deadline just days away, and now he must do all he can to earn playing time. If there’s no avenue to minutes on the field, he must simply train as hard as he can to be ready for the World Cup.
There’s precedent for producing quality national team minutes despite a lack of club faith, and Pulisic doesn’t have to look far for a prime example. Wales, a group stage opponent for the United States in Qatar, are led by Gareth Bale, who has maintained his game-changing skill set despite a falling out at Real Madrid that saw him spend years on the Santiago Bernabeu bench.
Despite that, Bale has produced a world-class level of play every time he steps on the field for his country, carrying Wales to World Cup qualification this summer and proving that it’s possible to contribute on the highest international stage while riding the bench at the club level.