There was a look of anger and frustration etched across the face of Christian Pulisic as he attempted to dig Chelsea out of yet another hole against Liverpool on Wednesday.
It may not have been anger at not starting the match as much as it was anger at the scoreline, seeing as it so often falls to Chelsea’s attacking sparks to dig their wobbly defence and goalkeeper out of those holes.
Chelsea were floundering at 3-0 down and looked vulnerable every time Liverpool surged into their half. Although the arrival of the American didn’t stop that from happening, it certainly gave Frank Lampard’s side a potent threat going forward, troubling the best defence in the league on a number of occasions and nearly resulting in a remarkable comeback.
The boy from Hershey set up one, scored another and could have had a second inside a frantic final 20 minutes as Chelsea lost 5-3 to the champions.
Looking forward, Chelsea have already landed knockout blows in the transfer market this summer with the arrivals of winger Hakim Ziyech and forward Timo Werner. Then there’s the rumoured arrival of attacking midfielder Kai Havertz, who is set to leave Bayer Leverkusen this summer, with Stamford Bridge the preferred destination.
But right now, Pulisic’s electric form is arguably overshadowing the excitement of the potential Havertz signing and also highlights that Chelsea have more than enough attacking power already.
That isn’t to say it’s been an entirely prolific first campaign for Pulisic; far from it. He took a number of weeks to settle into Lampard’s plans after a long summer last year and sustained a number of injuries, keeping him out of large chunks of the season. But a hat-trick against Burnley in November showed a glimpse of his undoubted talent and his form since the restart has been among the best in Europe.
Despite only featuring in half this season’s matches, Pulisic had already surpassed his most successful campaign in terms of attacking returns and there is certainly plenty more to come from the boy. He is after all only 21, as Lampard keeps reminding us.
The ‘work in progress’ nature of Chelsea’s first year under Lampard means most of the squad are auditioning for next season and in the attacking department, the majority of the current crop haven’t done themselves any harm. It’s further back that the real problems lie for the Blues and the need for defensive reinforcements is something the manager will actively be looking to address sooner rather than later.
It’s natural for Chelsea fans to be excited about the prospect of new attacking talent next year but that would also be doing a slight disservice to the current stars, led by Pulisic, who are largely delivering for the side.
The comparisons with Eden Hazard also don’t seem to be going away and it’s hard to argue against the similarities. However, there are notable differences between them when you compare the two at the same stage of their career.
Pulisic is more potent, his goal threat is more constant, and the speed to which he has adapted after a tough start is probably more rapid.
The desire to bring in Havertz is obvious for Chelsea, not just for his ability but the statement that it sends to the rest of Europe. Another marquee signing announces the return of Chelsea as a force in European football once again, but the form of Pulisic has perhaps already given a taste of that.
The way he demands the ball off his teammates carries with it that air of confidence so key to carving out a successful Premier League career.
The flair with which he darts past defenders with ease and the precision of his finishing highlights his comfort at this level and that he knows he belongs in this side.
The threat of further additions to the squad seems to have only ignited and motivated him to cling on to his starting place at all costs and become the go-to player for the club, not just for this crucial run-in but moving forward.
Of course, the incoming arrivals will improve the Chelsea side and it’s right to be excited about them, but let’s not forget the achievements of this season’s crop of talent, who have taken the club to the brink of Champions League qualification and, in the case of Pulisic, taken to the Premier League with impressive ease.
There may be more European imports touching down soon, but Captain America has already landed and he’s here to stay.