If you think you maybe spent a lot of money fixing up your kitchen or home office over the past 18 months, consider what it has cost Chelsea FC over that period of time to renovate merely the three forward positions in its matchday squad.
The acquisition of Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz since February 2020 put a $206 million dent in owner Roman Abramovich’s seemingly unlimited resources, and the arrival Thursday of striker Romelu Lukaku added $135 million onto that bill. That’s a lot of money, almost enough to buy a Major League Soccer team.
Well in advance of that spending spree, Chelsea acquired U.S. men’s national team star Christian Pulisic for $75 million. That’s still one of the 50 biggest transfer fees in the history of world soccer. Despite that extraordinary investment, though, and despite his essential role in securing the club’s Champions League victory in May, it’s natural to wonder if there’s a danger of Pulisic’s playing time being squeezed.
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Especially given Pulisic himself made that very point not long ago, acknowledging he was “frustrated” after coming off the bench to generate the clinching goal in the Champions League semifinal victory over Real Madrid.
“I wanted to play from the beginning, as I always do,” he said then (above). “I’ve had to continue to prove myself over and over again but, as always, I reach out to God, who gives me strength, and with that behind me, nothing can stop me.”
One thing can, at least: traffic.
Chelsea typically has employed three forwards under manager Thomas Tuchel, with a central striker and wingers on either side of that player. Pulisic has shown the ability to function capably on both left and right, but he was stationed mostly on the right side in his Champions League appearances.
With Ziyech, Havertz, Pulisic and England national team starter Mason Mount, Tuchel has four exceptional choices for just two positions. Oh, wait, there’s also gifted young Callum Hudson-Odoi, whom Tuchel uses sometimes as a wingback but whose natural position is up front. The official Chelsea roster now lists Mount as a midfielder, but he started up front throughout last spring.
For the club, this is what some refer to as “champagne problems.” For the players sitting on the bench, it is not so casually dismissed.
There is no question that Pulisic remains a prominent player in Chelsea’s squad. He was one of the players selected to take a penalty kick in the shootout that decided the UEFA Super Cup match Wednesday against Villarreal. He was the team’s best player in the first leg of the Real Madrid series, and Chelsea wasn’t assured of a spot in the Champions League final until his individual brilliance set up Mount for a tap-in to clinch passage from the semifinals.
Pulisic did not start the most recent Super Cup match, though, with Ziyech taking the spot on the right of Tuchel’s 3-4-3. But that could have been because the Super Cup is less consequential than a Premier League game and Pulisic might have been withheld for that. Impossible to know until the Blues take the field Saturday at 10 a.m. ET against Crystal Palace. Also, there’s the fact Ziyech appeared to injure his shoulder in the 43rd minute, and Pulisic had to enter the game in his place.
Goal.com’s Alex Keble also suggests the arrival of Lukaku could mean a change in formation, to something deploying two forwards, with Lukaku and Werner in tandem. Which would make the fight for playing time even more intense.
If Lukaku plays in England at anything near the level he reached in Serie A the past two seasons, Pulisic soon could earn a Premier League medal and add that to the one from the Champions League. Pulisic has made it plain, though, that “earn” is the verb he’d prefer to be used in such a sentence.