Pulisic faces tough task breaking through at Chelsea

Sports

FILE – In this Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019 file photo, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, center, vies for the ball with Leicester’s Ricardo Pereira, left, in front of Leicester’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, right, during the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge stadium in London. U.S. winger, Christian Pulisic, who completed his move to Stamford Bridge in the offseason for $73 million, hasn’t played a minute of Chelsea’s last three Premier League matches and also stayed on the bench during the team’s 1-0 home loss to Valencia in the Champions League two weeks ago. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

The group stage of the Champions League is only one round old and already Chelsea faces a match it cannot afford to lose.

Just don’t expect Christian Pulisic to play in the important game against Lille on Wednesday.

The U.S. winger, who completed his move to Stamford Bridge in the offseason for $73 million, hasn’t played a minute of Chelsea’s last three Premier League matches and also stayed on the bench during the team’s 1-0 home loss to Valencia in the Champions League two weeks ago.

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard has spoken of Pulisic needing to get through an “adaptation period” and suggested the American needed to show more consistency in training.

For his part, Pulisic has said being overlooked for Chelsea’s biggest matches in the past month is “frustrating,” adding Saturday in an interview with NBC after the team’s 2-0 win over Brighton: “It is not going to be easy here, but it was never going to be easy.”

It might actually be getting harder to convince Lampard to pick him.

The return to fitness of 18-year-old England international Callum Hudson-Odoi after five months out with a ruptured Achilles adds another wide player competing for a starting spot.

There’s also Brazil international Willian, former Spain international Pedro Rodriguez and Mason Mount, a 20-year-old English playmaker in his breakthrough season at Chelsea who is currently occupying the left-wing berth where Pulisic would play.

Mount, who can also play in the hole as a No. 10, appears to be Lampard’s favorite, someone the young coach feels he can mold and mentor, like he did when the pair was together at Derby County in England’s second tier last season. Mount is now being picked in England squads and his impressive performances for Chelsea this season are proving to be a problem for Pulisic.

For the league match against Liverpool on Sept. 22, Mount was a major doubt ahead of the game with an ankle injury, yet still started ahead of Pulisic — and played the whole match. He has played the full 90 minutes in all of Chelsea’s league games this season.

The sheer number of fixtures on Chelsea’s schedule means the 21-year-old Pulisic will get game time this season. Yet his minutes might be fleeting in the league — as they were for a long spell at Borussia Dortmund last season following the emergence of another English star in the making, Jadon Sancho — and he may have to be content with starts in the domestic cup competitions.

Not exactly what the American would have expected in his first season in English soccer.

BRUCE’S STRUGGLES

Speaking of difficult first seasons at a club, Steve Bruce is already looking weighed down by the task of keeping hometown club Newcastle in the Premier League.

Bruce spoke of “a complete surrender” and having “as bad an afternoon as I can remember” after Newcastle’s 5-0 loss at Leicester on Sunday.

Newcastle has won one of its first seven matches — somewhat surprisingly at Tottenham last month — and the team is in next-to-last place in the league.

The northeast club managed to stay in the top flight the last few seasons because of the managerial prowess of Rafa Benitez, who failed to agree to a new deal with Newcastle in the offseason and left to manage in China.

The first few months under Bruce only serve to highlight what a brilliant job Benitez actually did at St. James’ Park.

“I have heard lots of nonsense about tactics but the big thing is about showing pride and having a go,” Bruce said.

That’s one thing Benitez would never say. Newcastle fans should be concerned.

STAT ATTACK

With his double against Newcastle, Leicester striker Jamie Vardy took his overall tally of Premier League goals to 85 — one more than Cristiano Ronaldo scored in England’s top division at Manchester United.

Vardy has scored his haul in 183 games, while Ronaldo took 196 games.

There are, of course, caveats: Ronaldo was largely played as a winger and was at the start of his career when at United.

Still, they are impressive numbers for the 32-year-old Vardy, who was playing in England’s non-leagues until 2012. One of the fastest strikers in England, he is showing no sign of slowing down when it comes to scoring.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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