Graham Potter’s Squad Can Produce a New Undroppable To Prove Thierry Henry Wrong
Thierry Henry was scathing in his analysis. The usual jovial atmosphere of the CBS Sports Champions League studio was suddenly replaced by something a little less light-hearted.
“How many managers are not going to trust you?” probed Henry – a World Cup winner with France and Champions League winner with Barcelona. The object of his critique was the USMNT’s Christian Pulisic who had failed by that stage to gain the trust of his new Chelsea boss Graham Potter as a starter.
Henry was referencing the fact that since his high-profile arrival in the summer of 2019 from Borussia Dortmund Pulisic had not won over any of his Chelsea managers to a sufficient extent. He’s had three now – Frank Lampard, Thomas Tuchel and Potter. While his productivity was decent under Lampard, Pulisic never truly convinced Tuchel – even if he became a Champions League winner under the German in 2021.
He only made one start under Tuchel this season – a 2-1 win against West Ham United that was secured after he was substituted – and his prospects at Stamford Bridge at one stage looked so dim that he was being openly linked with a move away – to Juventus, to Newcastle, to Manchester United.
Compounding that misery was the revelation from his upcoming book that he was left “dumbfounded” and “disappointed” by Tuchel’s decision to leave him out of Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Real Madrid last year. Those quotes confirmed Pulisic’s status as Chelsea outcast; his future at the club far from secure.
Henry’s comments came during the coverage of Chelsea’s group-stage victory against AC Milan last Wednesday. A few days before, Pulisic had come off the bench to set up Conor Gallagher’s winning goal for the Blues at Crystal Palace. He was, however, left on the bench for the duration of the game at the Bridge while his team-mates ran riot over a depleted Milan.
Over the past few days, however, things might have picked up again for Pulisic. He was afforded a start against Wolves on Saturday – his second of the season – and should have done enough to warrant inclusion in the Champions League XI on Tuesday night. Potter rang the changes for that Premier League game – replacing seven of the line-up that started against Milan – with Pulisic one of the main beneficiaries of that rotation.
Chelsea had it mostly their own way against Wolves – capitalising on their prior good performance against Milan – with Pulisic impressive. He scored Chelsea’s second goal – a well-taken effort off of his left foot inside the area – and was generally busy and bright on the left-hand side of the attack.
It might not be enough yet to win over the naysayers as pointed out by USMNT legend Eric Wynalda at the weekend. He tweeted: “For the record – I’m finally noticing the pure bias on the broadcast – every time Pulisic does anything it’s ‘horribly, horribly wrong’. If an English player makes a similar play it’s a very different explanation. Pretty incredible.” In scoring, Pulisic became only the third American to score 20 Premier League goals – following Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey.
Henry had challenged Pulisic on CBS’s coverage to be decisive and ensure that his manager would have a hard time leaving him out. “You have to show something,” Henry surmised. Well, on Saturday, the 24-year-old did just that – much to the delight of his manager. “The role for Christian was a good one for him,” Potter said afterwards. “It was high, wide left, he could attack the back line, and it was nice for him to score.”
Pulisic’s next challenge is to stay in the team and become a main player even when Potter wants to rotate. Competition for places in the Chelsea attacking line is stiff and it is only through consistency that Pulisic will earn regular game-time. His prospects look a little better today than they did a few weeks back and – with matches coming thick and fast between now and Qatar 2022 – there is no time like the present to keep up his good run of form.