Christian Pulisic’s versatility has been put to good use at Chelsea this season, with the United States international being asked to fill a number of different roles, but Glen Johnson says the 23-year-old is definitely not a wing-back as he “doesn’t have a defensive bone in his body”.
A man more at home in a wide attacking berth would probably agree with that, but Pulisic has been doing his bit for the collective cause of late after being moved into striking and defensive berths rather than his typical winger role by Blues boss Thomas Tuchel.
He has not looked entirely comfortable in either new position, when operating as a false nine or as an advanced full-back, and Johnson believes a long-term future will be earned by a talented USMNT star once he has overcome form and fitness issues to prove himself back in a more natural position.
Will Pulisic prove his worth?
Quizzed on whether the American has a place in Chelsea’s long-term plans, ex-Blues right-back Johnson – speaking in association with BoyleSports – told GOAL: “I think he does. I like him a lot, but I don’t want to see him at right wing-back because he hasn’t got a defensive bone in his body!
“He is so good going forward and you can’t expect him to be good at it all. I don’t think he is a wing-back at all. Somebody like him playing on the left of [Romelu] Lukaku, and [Hakim] Ziyech on the right, you are going to struggle to get three better.
“Pulisic works his socks off, I know the lads like him in training and around the place, so he’s a good lad. He’s someone that is willing to work hard and play out of position, but I think to get the best out of him he is definitely better out wide on the left.”
Could he help Lukaku prosper?
Tuchel is still searching for a system that brings the absolute best out of those at his disposal, with questions being asked of whether Chelsea are playing to the strengths of £98 million frontman Romelu Lukaku.
The Belgian has suggested that he is a little frustrated at present, but Johnson believes a proven performer needs to tinker with his game rather than expecting others to bow to his needs.
He said of the Lukaku poser in west London: “You can’t play to one man’s strengths, you have to play to the team’s strengths. If he doesn’t fit that then that’s his problem, not the team’s problem.
“I’m a fan of him, he’s a fantastic player and he will score goals, but Chelsea concede more goals when he plays and score more when he doesn’t play. I don’t think he should be barking orders, he should be trying to fit into the style of play. He has got some world-class players around him and he’s an intelligent player so it won’t be hard for him to work it out.
“Sometimes at the moment, when he does play, they go to him too quickly and too direct. That’s too easy to defend against because they are so spread out, the defenders know it’s going to Lukaku and they jump on him, put two men around him, and if they lose the ball there, then you are open to the counter – that’s why they concede a lot. If they can find a way of playing that is across the two styles, then he could be a massive player for them.
“He is the main man, they bought him to be the final piece of the puzzle as being that big striker they were missing, but they still have a fantastic side. They weren’t one man away, they still have brilliant players and a good way of playing. He needs to fit into it.”
Any other concerns for Chelsea?
While the Blues are looking to invest long-term in Lukaku’s obvious talents, some serious concerns are surfacing at the other end of the field.
Antonio Rudiger, Thiago Silva, Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta are all due to be out of contract in the summer of 2022, with there a very real threat that some serious talent and experience will walk away for nothing in a matter of months.
Johnson said of that situation: “It’s bonkers. Chelsea normally do their business very, very well – they bring players through and if they aren’t good enough, they sell them for fortunes and they keep recycling.
“Those players are so hard to replace. Rudiger has come back to life, he’s playing well, Azpilicueta will run through walls for you – these players are hard to find and when you’ve got them, the easiest thing to do is to keep them on a contract. You can’t let them go for free. I’m sure they will be looking at keeping at least two of them.
“If you were going to buy four players that are the equivalent of those four, you are going to be spending over £200m – it’s crazy. Let’s be honest, they aren’t going to be earning £200m between them so it doesn’t make financial sense to let them go for free and try to replace them.
“Thiago Silva, the youngsters watching him train is beneficial, and he’s still performing. He doesn’t have the legs to do it every week, but to have people like that, you just can’t find other players like that.”
Is Tuchel under pressure?
Big decisions on contracts and further additions will need to be made at some stage, but Tuchel is currently more concerned with an alarming wobble from his team that has them looking over their shoulder in a keenly-contested battle for top-four finishes.
Failure will not be accepted there, despite landing another Champions League crown in 2021, and Johnson admits that Roman Abramovich will be demanding better than the Blues have been producing of late.
Quizzed on how much patience a European triumph will have bought Tuchel, Johnson – who took in Premier League and League Cup triumphs with the Blues in 2004-05 – said: “Not a lot when Roman’s the boss! We know it’s the hottest seat in world football regardless of whether you win stuff or not. If the main man falls out of love with you, you aren’t going to be there very long.
“I don’t think Roman will be very pleased if the title race is over by the end of January. That will be important. If the title race is over, he will see it as a flop. It’s going to be hard to catch City, but the race has got to go a lot longer.
“I don’t want to say the man is under pressure, because I don’t think he is and I don’t think he deserves to be because he’s done a great job, but we know that if Roman gets something in his head, it’s going to be his way.”
Tuchel will have the opportunity to get Chelsea back on track in their next outing, with fellow title hopefuls Liverpool due to pay a visit to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.