Success didn’t come about quickly for Chelsea this season. A 4-0 battering on the opening day at Manchester United ensured that expectations were immediately brought into check, but they have hit a vein of form of late which suggests Frank Lampard’s youths are heading in the right direction.
The supporters’ patience has been rewarded, with Chelsea coasting to a top-four berth following six league wins from 10 ahead of a visit to Vicarage Road to take on lowly Watford. It is fair to say the Blues have found their stride.
For Christian Pulisic it has taken longer than the rest to settle. Having been excluded from the squad for a Champions League trip to Lille and failed to make much of an impact on the team sheet domestically, concerns over his situation were widespread.
Pulisic is the third-most-expensive acquisition in Chelsea’s history, signing from Borussia Dortmund for £58m before their transfer ban was imposed after 150 rule breaches relating to the signing of academy players.
But Lampard has made the conscious decision to introduce the American via baby steps, even dropping the forward completely for three straight games. For a man inevitably billed as Eden Hazard’s replacement, it has hardly been the most compelling of beginnings in Premier League football.
Pulisic really announced himself against Burnley at Turf Moor last week though, netting a perfect hat-trick - right foot, left foot, header - and becoming the first Blues player to do so in almost a decade. Furthermore, Pulisic overtook Tammy Abraham as Chelsea’s youngest ever hat-trick scorer in the Premier League. At 21 years and 38 days old, Pulisic beats Abraham’s 42-day record, the Englishman having set the standard at Wolves in mid-September. It also means that Chelsea have become the first team to have two under-22 players to have scored a hat-trick in one season. We’re only in November.
The USA international could now prove to be the counterbalance to an academy-oriented squad, that extra bit of zest and added joie de vivre in a team with an imposed onus on promoting from within. This was perhaps most aptly demonstrated in Chelsea’s Champions League fixture away to Ajax. With the visitors unable to break the deadlock at the Johan Cruyff Arena, Pulisic’s late introduction yielded the vital assist for Michy Batshuayi which gave the Blues all three points.
Chelsea’s clash with Watford this weekend offers a great opportunity for Pulisic to further demonstrate his prowess and provide further early justification for the massive price tag the west London outfit were willing to pay for him. The Hornets are without a win in a total of 14 league fixtures dating back to April.
For their part, Chelsea had their seven-game unbeaten run in all competitions ended by Manchester United in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday, but they have won their last four away Premier League games and have netted at least three goals on each occasion. Only Everton have managed a better such run in the history of the top tier, winning five consecutive away games with more than three goals per time in 1927. The Toffees won the league that year!
Pulisic does not have to carry the burden by himself, nor is he the only player benefitting from Lampard’s tutelage. Teammate Tammy Abraham has scored six goals and assisted one more in his last four away Premier League games. The 21-year-old forward has scored more away goals than any other player in the competition this campaign, and already has more than any Chelsea player scored on the road in the entire 2018/19 season.
But Pulisic collecting the match ball for his impressive display against the Clarets was a fitting and indeed confidence-boosting way to reward just his second full 90-minute Premier League game. Is it an anomaly, or have Lampard and Chelsea got their timing exactly right in their slow introduction of Pulisic to the Premier League? Time will tell.