USA phenomenon Christian Pulisic is headlining the Premier League with four goals and four assists in his eight appearances since the restart—a goal or assist for every 71 minutes on the pitch. A torn groin on the first day of the year prevented him from playing a match until the league resumed. As demonstrated by the 21-year-old ’s latest performances, Pulisic’s forced hiatus was extremely productive. This tactical analysis will outline his improvements since his return, his role in Frank Lampard’s tactics, and the statistics behind his scout report.
Pulisic played for the PA Classics, now Penn FC, until he was signed by Borussia Dortmund at only 16-years-old. At 17, he became the US Men’s National Team’s youngest goalscorer. Shortly after, he became the youngest player to score two goals in a game for USA. He transferred to Chelsea last summer for a hefty fee of £58 million; an inevitable recognition of his record-breaking performances.
Many questioned whether Pulisic would adapt well to the Premier League. After losing Eden Hazard to Real Madrid for £120 million last summer, fans expected Pulisic to fill the Belgian’s boots. Pulisic’s first season with the Blues produced nine goals and six assists in his 24 league appearances so far—a goal or assist every 134 minutes on the pitch. In comparison, in Hazard’s last season with Chelsea, he scored or assisted a goal for every 94 minutes on the pitch; 16 goals and 15 assists in 37 league appearances during the 18/19 season. Despite his injuries, Pulisic’s debut season is comparable to Hazard’s best season with the London club.
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford (23) and Gabonese striker Pierre Emerick Aubameyang (21) lead the way on goal contribution (goals plus assists) for Premier League wingers. Due to his early season injury, Pulisic (13) sits far from the top. The minutes he missed can be statistically counteracted by factoring in the number of minutes played; creating per 90 minutes, or per 90. Graph 1 compares Premier League wingers’ goals per 90 vs assists per 90. Siting with elite company, the USA captain yields 0.46 goals and 0.21 assists per 90.
Attacking players are primarily judged off their goal and assists. To assess Pulisic’s goal contributions equitably, I introduced per 90 to form Goal Contributions per 90. Graph 2 compares Age vs Goal Contribution per 90. For every 90 minutes Pulisic is on the field, he will score or assist 2/3 of the time; 3rd best for all wingers in the Premier League. Only Rihyad Mahrez and Marcus Rashford rank higher with 0.83 and 0.76, respectively. Pulisic’s golden-boy status is emphasized by the lack of company in his sector of Graph 2.
Internationally, Pulisic has 14 goals in 34 appearances for the USA. Tied on 57, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan head the all-time goalscoring charts. Pulisic’s boasts a goals to game ratio of 0.41 goals per game; better than Dempsey (0.4) and Donovan (0.36). If he hones his effective play-style, he will become the greatest American player ever.
Pulisic’s electric speed is underpinned by his acceleration. A top speed of 34.4 kph, his quick change of pace eludes opponents with ease. Pulisic is slightly slower than the Premier League’s fastest player: Leicester City centre-back, Çağlar Söyüncü at 37.5 kph.
Pulisic’s swiftness was on display in an important 2-1 win against Manchester City. After defending a corner in his own half, Pulisic rushes to pressure the Manchester City backline. An aimless pass from Benjamin Mendy gives Pulisic the opportunity to win possession in a dangerous area. He sprints away, dribbles past a recovering Mendy, and finesses the ball into the bottom right corner.
While he has the pace to get past a man once he beats them, he also has the footwork to play in close quarters. At 5’7”, he uses his small frame and high agility to shield the ball away from opponents as he dribbles past them. This intelligent use of his body frustrates defenders attempting to win the ball off of him—drawing fouls in dangerous positions for his team.
Pulisic’s scout report indicates a dribble-first mentality. His 8.27 dribbles per 90, 6th best in the league, are complemented by a laudable dribble success rate of 56.05%. In a tactical analysis, Graph 3 ranks all Premier League wingers highest dribbles per 90 in descending order and provides each player’s dribble success rate. The Chelsea playmaker’s extraordinary numbers in both categories suggests that he is a leading dribbler for the Premier League. Notably, Adama Traoré ranks 1st in both categories by a large margin.
In a game of space, the left winger wisely uses the full area of the pitch in the offensive transition. With his heels on the touchline, he spreads the opposition and opens the inside. He cuts onto his stronger right foot and picks his head up: shoot or pass.
Facing Ajax in the Champions League, Pulisic demonstrated his clever use of width. He drives into the middle onto his favoured right foot. Subsequently, Ajax players converged on him, narrowing their defence. He picks his head up, brings wingback Reece James into play, and darts towards the penalty box in hopes for a far post cross. His ability to unlock the defense shows maturity in decision making even at his young age.
His action areas are clearly concentrated to cut inside from both wings. Below on Graph Ball Progression, Pulisic’s efforts advancing the ball are categorized by run or pass. The diagonal nature of his movements disrupts defensive formations. Because of this, defenders must decide to either follow the runner or preserve the team shape.
One of Pulisic’s standout attributes is his first touch. His first touch fundamentals are: Before receiving the ball, scan the surroundings for free space—this allows you to visualize the plan. Receive the ball in the open space. Keep the ball by positioning yourself between the ball and your opponent. After receiving the ball, sprint away. Pulisic’s fundamentals derive from his intelligence on the field.
For example, in a tactical analysis against the high-press of Manchester City, Pulisic exhibited his football IQ. He checks to the ball and receives it in the middle of four opponents. His first touch is crucial: into the open space and opposite of the play’s momentum. The opposition shifts left, whereas Pulisic cuts right. Ultimately, space is created for N’Golo Kanté to receive the ball in a foot race to goal against 35-year-old, Fernandinho.
Pulisic returned in prolific form, going from a decent player to a great player. He modified his game to suit his style—running at defenders. Because of this, his stats have increased across the board: 1.75 increase in dribbles per game, 0.2 more goals and 0.2 more assists per game, 1.5 extra defensive duels won. Consequently, the direct play-style decreases his passing and crossing overall. Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s all-time top goalscorer, changed his tactics to benefit Pulisic’s explosiveness and mitigate his poor crossing.
As a winger, Pulisic is expected to provide crosses into the box for his teammates. His ability to cross the ball is abysmal. Throughout the season, he had 1.9 crosses per 90 at a 19% completion rate—he successfully crosses once every 250 minutes. Below, Graph 4 links Crosses per 90 vs Cross Completion %. The average crosses per 90 and completion rate is 2.4 and 30%, respectively. Comparatively to Pulisic, average Premier League wingers connect a cross every 138 minutes.
Pulisic is a liability defensively. Ranking in the bottom 15% of Premier League wingers, his 4.42 successful defensive actions per 90 indicate his lack of defensive contribution. Pulisic saves his energy for the offensive transition. By sitting far up the pitch, he positions himself in threatening areas and uses his stored energy to accelerate away.
What he lacks defensively, he makes up for in attacking prowess. Pulisic has the vision to find holes in opposition defences and the technical ability to manifest his imagination. His direct style of play complements his physical attributes: speed, agility, and balance.
Chelsea narrowly secured Champions League Qualification due to Pulisic’s heroics during Project Restart. Supported by their new signings, Timo Werner and Hakim Ziyech, the young team should hope to challenge for the title next season. Pulisic will welcome the addition of quality players to supplement him further. With 114 senior appearances already, the wonder-kid will continue to impress the world for the next decade.