As if there was not already reason enough for Americans to celebrate this July 4, Christian Pulisic came through with another confident showing in a Chelsea win.
Not that he was perfect, though.
Pulisic continued his recent run of good form on Saturday by helping Chelsea post a convincing 3-0 victory vs. an overmatched Watford side. Pulisic’s most notable contribution in the lopsided affair was the nifty cutback he pulled off to change direction and draw a penalty in the 42nd minute.
The U.S. Men’s National Team attacker did not take the ensuing spot kick — that responsibility fell to Willian, who converted to make it 2-0 — but it punctuated a solid first half for Pulisic in which he was probably Chelsea’s most dangerous player.
The 21-year-old American was aggressive during the opening 45 minutes, looking to play forward almost every time he touched the ball, be it with a penetrating dribbling run or incisive pass. Early in the stanza, Pulisic set up Olivier Giroud for a great scoring opportunity that was superbly saved by Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster’s outstretched leg.
Yet as good as Pulisic was in the first half, he was absent for much of it. Teammates looked him off repeatedly, and he also did not help his cause by cheaply losing the ball on the dribble on a couple of occasions in which he could have attempted to play a more collective game.
The newfound confidence Pulisic has discovered in recent weeks may have been the primary reason for his willingness to try and go at defenders vs. Watford, but there is a fine line between believing in one’s own abilities and being selfish.
Pulisic was the latter at times on Saturday, a tad too individualistic in moments that called for a more collaborative effort. He finished the first half with the second fewest touches (24) of any Chelsea field player, a curious development given how dangerous he was when saw the ball but a likely byproduct of teammates not feeding him after seeing him go it alone one too many times.
There was notable improvement in Pulisic’s ability to play within the collective group after the break. He played safer at times and combined a little more — finishing the match with 61 touches — all while still looking as confident and aggressive as he did prior to the intermission.
On one play towards the end of the match, the talented youngster tried to dribble through a pair of Watford defenders in the 18-yard box. The move did not come off despite his protests for another penalty, but it illustrated that Pulisic had not lost his desire to try and resolve things by himself when the situation called for it.
That said, the ability to look for and find teammates marked his last major contribution on Saturday. He played a part in the build-up to Ross Barkley’s late insurance goal, slipping a ball to the left to an overlapping Cesar Azpilicueta before a low cross found Barkley for the authoritative finish. Pulisic could have opted to fake the pass and dribbled inward to attempt to have a go himself, but he made the more intelligent decision and it paid dividends.
If Pulisic can find a better balance between that type of collective play and the lethal individualism that he has demonstrated in recent weeks, he will transform into that much more of a dangerous weapon for Chelsea. Finding that equilibrium is tricky, of course, and it will only come with more experience.
Still, the sooner Pulisic can manage that the better he will be. Yes, he is playing some of the best soccer of his young career right now, but there remains room for him to grow into an even deadlier player.
One that teammates will not be able to ignore, and one that gives Americans even more reasons to celebrate