Christian Pulisic is a confidence player who thrives off responsibility. A fragile character – he was recently described as ‘quite the introvert’ in an interview for The Athletic by James Horncastle, with a fragile body, he’s currently back to fitness and back in favour, basking in the adoration of the febrile San Siro crowd. The American’s time at Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea was characterized by fleeting moments of brilliance but ultimately underscored by injuries and unrest.
At AC Milan, he’s found a new home. Arriving for a modest €20m fee alongside fellow Chelsea outcast Ruben Loftus-Cheek, expectations of what could rather than would be met his arrival in the Italian capital. Pulisic’s future has always been greeted with huge fanfare, it’s part and parcel of being an American on European shores. But with a player of Pulisic’s ability, it comes with an added responsibility, which the 25-year-old said he’s less comfortable rising to. He prefers to do his talking on the pitch.
So, with Rafael Leão not quite at his brilliant best this season, Pulisic has stepped up to keep Milan within touching distance of first place in Serie A. Five goals and assists in his last seven league games have steered the Rossoneri back on track after a run of five games without a win across October, and November threatened to derail their season.
It speaks volumes to Pulisic’s influence that through that winless period, he was struggling with injuries. But whilst injuries have been a constant factor in Pulisic’s career, he has managed them well in Milan thus far, and that they are just a talking point with which to signal his importance says it all about how he’s playing.
Pulisic was a bit part player for much of his time at Chelsea, struggling to adapt once Frank Lampard left the club. In Milan, though, he is starting week in, week out – of the 18 matchday squads he has been available for, he has started on the bench just once. Even at his pomp in West London, during the 2019-20 season, Pulisic started just 19 times, a figure he’s on course to smash this year. Availability is nine-tenths of the game, and Pulisic’s quality is shining through as a result.
Technically proficient, Pulisic’s ability to consistently find the net for Chelsea endeared him to many fans. Adopting a range of different finishes, Pulisic exerts a level of control that many forwards struggle to mimic, and with 53.6% of his shots finding the target, Pulisic has singled himself out as one of the most efficient wide men in Italy this season.
In an age where wingers are being chastised for playing safe, Pulisic is as direct as they come. He looks to receive between the lines before bombing into the area and finding a shot or a teammate.
His appreciation of space also allows him to play off the talismanic Olivier Giroud, picking up knockdowns in and around the box. There’s a sharpness and effectiveness to his game that keeps the opposition guessing.
Pulisic has always enjoyed his status as the main man, the player you come to rely on to dig you out of situations, and at Milan, he has taken on that mantle even if Leão is still the jewel in the crown – of his 13-goal involvements this season, seven of them have opened the scoring whilst two have been match winners in 1-0 victories. Pulisic is taking the onus and taking control of games for Milan, asserting himself in a squad stacked full of attacking talent; Samuel Chukwueze and Noah Okafor also arrived in the summer but have struggled for game time due to Pulisic’s impact on the team.
With America set to host the Copa America finals this summer, Pulisic has reestablished himself as a figurehead for both club and country. In finding fitness, he has found form and contentment again. A joy to behold when in full fight, we should all be championing the return of the ‘Lebron James of soccer’.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Icon Sportswire