When a promising young player is looking to break into the first team, there are few traits more valuable than role versatility. Being able to capably fill multiple positions can open a variety of avenues to earning both minutes and the trust of one’s manager.
Once a player hits a certain age, however, the value of that versatility sours a bit. Few players embody that trajectory better than Christian Pulisic. The same multifaceted skill set that helped him break into Thomas Tuchel’s Borussia Dortmund side at age 17 may have played a role in keeping him on the bench for Tuchel’s Chelsea. From the moment the German manager arrived in London, he has praised Pulisic’s ability to change games off the bench, casting him as a super-sub with limited opportunities as a starter. Even when Pulisic did get considerable minutes, it was seldom in a consistent position, oscillating between either flank as a winger or wing back while also being asked to deputize in the center of the attack.
As Pulisic’s name continues to appear in transfer chatter, the U.S. international may soon have a chance to make a fresh impression at the club level. Most often deployed on the left wing by U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter, smarterscout’s data indicates that Tuchel didn’t play him in the position as part of a 4-3-3 in the 2021-22 season. That despite impressing most on the left flank in spring 2020, throughout the 2020-21 season and especially with starring turns during the run to the 2021 Champions League title.
The need to incorporate fellow high-priced acquisitions like Romelu Lukaku, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner (plus the rise of Mason Mount), combined with a slight narrowing of Chelsea’s attacking shape, left Pulisic with a less clear pathway to regular minutes.
(Note: the LM/RM roles are indicative of minutes logged as a wing back)
At the same time, the departures of Victor Moses and Davide Zappacosta left Tuchel with little cover behind Reece James at right wing back. So when the England international suffered a long-lingering hamstring injury, Pulisic was the most logical choice to fill in. While his defensive work rate helps him shine when lined up in the attacking third, his size and playing style don’t lend themselves well to life as a defender.
Still, his minutes logged as a right wing back are markedly less than his run-out in the center of the park, where he played 80 percent of his 1,368 minutes last season. He was effective there, too, and smarterscout’s pizza chart for his 696 minutes as a No. 10 shows particular strengths in pressing, dribbling and receiving the ball in dangerous areas.