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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Does Christian Pulisic need to leave Chelsea before the 2022 World Cup?

Christian Pulisic watched the majority of Leeds United’s 3-0 dismantling of Chelsea from the bench. The midfielder came on in the 64th minute, with Leeds already up by two goals and sitting deep to defend. This left Pulisic with little space to run into, rendering his impact – and his minutes – essentially meaningless.

It was a slight upgrade from the previous week, when the American played in the final five minutes of a 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur – the first blockbuster encounter of the new Premier League season.

Even with the small jump in minutes, Pulisic’s standing in Thomas Tuchel’s squad has been made clear. He is a peripheral figure at Stamford Bridge.

Signed for €63m from Borussia Dortmund three years ago, Pulisic’s Chelsea career to date has been turbulent. The American international has made over 100 appearances for the Blues, but has struggled to string together consistent performances over a prolonged period of time. Tuchel, it appears, has lost faith in the player.

Reports last season also claimed Tuchel and Pulisic had suffered a fall-out, although the Chelsea manager moved to publicly quell such suggestions. “It is a normal thing [if] players are frustrated,” he said. “Like every manager, we have our reasons to choose lineups and we have our reasons to go for players in the first XI. And you will never see at this level of competition happy faces from players who are not selected.”

Nonetheless, this has led to speculation around Pulisic’s future with Everton, Manchester United and Newcastle United all reportedly interested in signing the 23-year-old. Mixed in with all the discussion around Pulisic’s options is the 2022 World Cup. Would it be wise for the American to be on the move this close to the tournament?

Keep in mind this is the first World Cup Pulisic will have played in, following the USA’s failure to qualify for Russia 2018. This winter could be a career-defining moment in the attacker’s career, particularly if the USA make a run into the knockout rounds of the tournament. Pulisic is primed to be a key player for his country in Qatar.

Pulisic’s troubled injury history means some USA fans might be content with the 23-year-old coming off the bench to make fleeting appearances for Chelsea in the run-up to the World Cup. This way Pulisic can stay in the picture at Stamford Bridge without running himself into the ground before the tournament.

On the flip side of this argument, Pulisic might feel he needs regular minutes to be sharp for the World Cup. The attacker is arguably the USA’s greatest difference maker; it’s imperative that Pulisic is in the best shape possible this winter. Will cameos off the bench be enough to keep him at peak match fitness?

The potential moves before the transfer deadline all come with trade-offs to the likely increase in playing time. Newcastle United are a team on an upward trajectory following the Saudi Arabia-backed takeover of the club last year. The American would be a statement signing for the Magpies and would significantly strengthen their team.

However, Allan Saint-Maximin already plays on the left side of Eddie Howe’s 4-3-3 formation, meaning Pulisic could be deployed on the right. He is capable of playing there, but Gregg Berhalter has predominantly used Pulisic on the left. That difference in position for club and country could be a concern for the USA.

Manchester United could do with a new left winger such is the low standard of Marcus Rashford’s recent form, but Old Trafford is a toxic environment at this moment in time. Erik ten Hag is already facing significant pushback as he attempts to overhaul the culture at United and Pulisic could find himself caught up in it all. He doesn’t need that before the World Cup.

A transfer to Everton would come with similar risks. Frank Lampard’s team face a fight against relegation from the Premier League and while Pulisic would undoubtedly improve the squad at Goodison Park, he might view his individual level as more befitting of a team competing higher up the table.

There’s a chance Pulisic makes the decision to leave the Premier League with Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Roma all believed to be interested in signing the American. Atleti in particular would be an interesting option for Pulisic who has frequently played his best soccer for teams who operate on the counter attack, as Diego Simeone’s side does.

Of course, the option most people are talking about this week would keep him in the Premier League – a move to Jesse Marsch’s Leeds United. There he would join fellow US stars Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson. Undoubtedly, the three’s chemistry could unlock another dimension for Leeds, and in turn fine-tune the connection they’ve built together in the lead-up to the World Cup.

Pulisic is undeniably at a career-crossroads, with Tuchel increasingly reluctant to use the American as a first team figure for Chelsea, but it’s unclear whether he should take a new direction now or wait until after the World Cup to make any such decision. There has never been so much on the line for Pulisic.

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