Christian Pulisic scored a fantastic goal on Saturday night against Frosinone, his fifth in Serie A, and it has become clear that he is one of AC Milan’s most important performers.
Having arrived as one of the first of the 10 summer signings that Milan made, it didn’t take long for him to nail down a starting spot despite the fact Samuel Chukwueze joined after as the most expensive purchase of the campaign at €28m including bonuses.
Now, head coach Stefano Pioli can’t do without the American and he is repaying his trust. The Rossoneri’s possible recovery will depend on the performances of the former Chelsea man, as well as other key protagonists in the squad of course.
A masterclass in technique
Let’s start with the goal, a pearl by Pulisic from an aesthetic point of view but also fundamental for the inertia of the match. The 25-year-old showed all of his attacking intelligence by starting with a job across the defensive line that turned into a perfectly-timed sprint.
Mike Maignan’s 60.7m pass might well steal the show because of its accuracy, but Pulisic’s incredible first touch to take the ball in stride and then his excellent dribble to resist the charge of three opposing defenders, with a composed finish over the goalkeeper.
It was definitely one of Milan’s best goals this season and some have likened it to a goal from the ‘old’ Pulisic, when at Borussia Dortmund he was linked with elite European clubs and was talked about as being one of the top wingers in the world.
Confidence is key
In the summer, Pulisic made the decision to leave London for Italy and to try a third European league in his relatively young career after the Bundesliga and the Premier League.
He believed that Milan could be the right club and the right launching pad to allow him to find himself agains and return to the levels everyone knows he is capable of. He was also conscious of the need for consistent playing time, after struggling for game time with Chelsea.
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Moreover, Chelsea’s huge spending spree over previous windows made it clear that he was not considered a key part of the plans for their attacking department moving forward, so the right time had come to move on.
At Milan, the American found an atmosphere without too much pressure and an ownership that focus on the American factor to enhance the relationship also from a commercial point of view.
A key pawn
From a technical point of view he is now fundamental for Milan. When he is absent there is a hole on the right wing, not always filled by Samuel Chukwueze who among other things has been inconsistent also due to injuries.
When Pulisic and Davide Calabria are on one wing and then Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leao are on the other, the Rossoneri have two dangerous and complimentary flanks, that are building chemistry and cohesion with the midfield as well.
In recent games, with Leao out injured, Pulisic has been diverted over to the left side. It is a position that he knows well and has played previously for club and country, and the goal he scored against Frosinone shows he can be dangerous from either side.
Pulisic – a big chess player – has become a fundamental pawn in Milan’s tactical chessboard and providing that he can remain fit it will continue that way.
A step above the competition
At the beginning of the season, on paper, Pulisic and Chukwueze started almost equally. Indeed, the former Villarreal player was coming off a very impressive season in LaLiga, with excellent performances against Real Madrid among others.
The numbers were on the Nigerian’s side, while the American had a tough season on his CV both personally and as a team with Chelsea, which led to there being more excitement regarding the arrival of the former.
Pioli, on the other hand, values those players who arrive earlier in the summer and have more time to get accustomed to his mechanisms. Chukwueze came later so started as the back-up, a choice that paid off for large stretches of this start of the season.
In Serie A he played 12 games, amassing two assists and five goals, his most against Frosinone last night. In the Champions League, however, he stands on the threshold of being a disappointment with zero goals and assists to his name and performances that were not always as impressive as domestically.
The American is complicit in Milan’s attacking sterility in the top continental competition, especially in the first few group games. However, the fact there is even further room for improvement with time and more confidence can only be exciting.