Frank Lampard's first season at as Chelsea manager has been a roller-coaster ride but one that is heading towards a dream finish. On Sunday, the West London club secured a fourth-place finish despite a transfer ban, the departure of Eden Hazard, and a host of injuries all through the season.
The focus has squarely been on Chelsea academy graduates like Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Reece James, and others who have stepped up and helped the Blues confirm their presence in next season's UEFA Champions League.
Although a lot of credit has gone to the Blues self-made young stars, one youngster that has stolen the show is Christian Pulisic. The American was one player that the club were able to bring into the squad this summer despite the embargo on bringing new players as he had completed his signing in January 2019 before FIFA announced the sanctions on Chelsea.
Having lost Hazard, who was arguably the best player in the league, the expectations from the attacking players present in the squad were bound to increase with the Belgian not around. For a player coming for a fee as high as Christian Pulisic, those expectations were bound to be sky high.
It goes without saying that Christian Pulisic has lived up to promise. The American international has surely been one of the highlights of Chelsea's season and arguably the biggest positive they carry to the next campaign. Many around Stamford Bridge would be wondering whether the race to securing a top-four finish would have been a lot more comfortable had they not lost Christian Pulisic to injury from New Year's day to when football was stopped in March due to the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Such has been Christian Pulisic's brilliance that various people including Chelsea fans have already started comparing him to Hazard. Essentially, there is no bigger compliment you can pay to the player.
Are the comparisons between Christian Pulisic and Eden Hazard legit?
Ultimately, Christian Pulisic has made that left-wing spot in the Chelsea team, which Eden Hazard occupied for years, his own. A player who takes on defenders, dribbles past players with ease, forces fouls on him in dangerous areas, sets up chances for his teammates and scores goals coming in from the left-hand side, is naturally going to remind fans of the brilliance Hazard served them for years.
The American has ended his first season in the Premier League with a remarkable tally of nine goals and four assists despite only making 25 appearances. At the age of 21, this is a truly remarkable debut season in England.
Interestingly even Hazard who was a year older than Christian Pulisic at the time had the same number of league goals in his first season despite playing 34 games. However, the Belgian had a significantly higher number of assists with 11 to his name.
Similar yet not the same
While Christian Pulisic's style and impact are bound to give Eden Hazard vibes across Stamford Bridge, the two are different in how they approach the sport. Hazard, by all means, was an entertainer and a team player. If his career has had one criticism, it is the fact that he did not score enough goals.
Ultimately, that was a by-product of the kind of player Hazard was. His focus was never on being the one that scores the goals but on creating chances for his teammates, releasing pressure from his side, controlling the tempo of the game, and creating space for other players. While numbers did not always exhibit his contribution to being the team's star man, the eye-test did.
While he excelled in creating space, movements, and opportunities for his teammates to score, Christian Pulisic is slightly different in his approach. The American looks for goals as soon as he has the ball on his feet.
Not only is he more direct than the Belgian but also capable of making attacking runs into the box and find himself at the end of crosses near the goal to score 'tap-ins' as shown by his goals against Aston Villa, Watford, Crystal Palace, and Valencia this season.
This is an art that wide players like Raheem Sterling, Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane have perfected and helped their teams became among Europe's most free-scoring sides. In fact, this skill of getting goals is increasingly becoming a need rather than luxury for wingers in modern-day football.
A lot of times big-money moves are a test of a player's mentality more than ability. The world is full of examples of the price-tag pressure getting the better of some very talented players. Quite clearly, Christian Pulisic is not one of them and he is someone who has excelled under the increased scrutiny just like Hazard did after moving to Chelsea in 2012.
Despite being left-out by Lampard for a long period in the early part of the season, the 21-year-old managed to work hard, regain his place in the side, and come back a better player. His first Premier League start in almost two-months against Burnley saw him score a hat-trick, only showing how he accepted the challenge from his manager rather than letting the frustration get the better of him.
Then again, a long injury layoff coming just before Coronavirus hiatus saw him not play competitive football for almost six months. Being out of action for such a long period of time and coming back into Chelsea's intense top-four race was going to be a big challenge. However, since the restart, Christian Pulisic has been among the best players in the league and arguably played the best football of his career.
There is no doubt that Christian Pulisic is not someone who bogs down under pressure or when the going gets tough. In fact, by the looks of things he is a player that thrives on adversity.
This will not surprise many who have followed his career. A player who was brave enough to leave for another continent at the age of 15 and carrying the hopes of a country as big as the USA as a teenager shows that he is ready for the big league.
Can Christian Pulisic bring laurels to Chelsea like Hazard?
Many would agree that if Christian Pulisic plays anywhere near as long as Hazard did for Chelsea, he would end up scoring more goals than him. The numbers might favor him as he grows and develops into a better player. However, Hazard's legacy at Chelsea was far more than anything the goals and assists will show.
The Belgian was the star in Chelsea winning multiple trophies. Hazard was the catalyst in the West London club's 2015 and 2017 Premier League wins. He stepped up and scored goals in big finals for his side like the Blues' two most recent triumphs in the 2018 FA cup and 2019 Europa League.
Ultimately, that is what Christian Pulisic will be judged on. If he wants to be labeled as the true heir to Hazard's crown, the former Borussia Dortmund star needs to help bring silverware to Chelsea.
Christian Pulisic's massive contribution is helping Chelsea secure Champions League football this season show he is capable of doing so. However, ultimately it is the trophies that people will remember. Saturday's FA Cup final against Arsenal is his first opportunity at the same.Published 01 Aug 2020, 15:38 IST