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March 26, 2019

Is Christian Pulisic Now Underrated?

Avatar March 26, 2019

The youngest non-German to score in the Bundesliga. The youngest player to score two Bundesliga goals. The youngest player to appear and score for Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. The youngest US player to appear and score in a World Cup qualifier. The youngest US player ever to score a brace. The youngest US captain, ever. US Soccer’s male athlete of the year, 2016 and 2017. UEFA Champions League breakthrough XI, 2016. CONCACAF best XI, 2017. Kopa Trophy 2nd place behind Mbappe, 2018.

The most expensive American player of all time, 3 times over, and he just turned 20.

However, after a season in the Bundesliga where he’s been overshadowed by teammate Jadon Sancho, and a good-but-not-great 2019 USMNT debut, heading into tonight’s high-profile game against Chile, it’s time to ask: is Christian Pulisic now underrated?

A look back at Pulisic to date

Before answering that question, and before he dons Chelsea blue this summer, I want to back up a bit. Who was Christian Pulisic BEFORE all of the accolades started pouring in?

Pulisic actually started in England with the youth team, Brackley Town, playing for just one year before returning to Hershey, PA and playing the majority of his youth with PA Classics out of Manheim. Now I linked the club out of respect for what they’ve done with their players, several of which have gone onto play professionally somewhere (bravo). I linked Hershey so you can see how incredibly small town it is, no bigger than a few high schools. Their practice facility? Here ya go. Not exactly Stamford Bridge. His parents? On record saying they let Christian develop at his own pace, and never pushed.

      “I think (parents being in control) is important because sometimes parents are like, ‘I want my kid to be on the best team.’ If you have a coach that’s not a good role model in the best team, why would you really want your child being in that environment? I’ve seen that over and over again and I would refuse to put my son in an environment where someone is being negative. That to me is unacceptable. Parents do have to step up and say, ‘You know what? You are not going to be on the best team, but you are going to be around better people.’ Really, that’s a life lesson that’s going to be more important later on….We had to step away because it was just blaming the ref, and blaming this and just being negative to other children. To me, that’s awful. They are kids. You can’t do that. It’s a team game at a young level. Nobody needs that.”
     “I think the parents that maybe are just, Go, go, go, go – trying to get that extra training, trying to get personal training, team training, on all sorts of different teams (are stressed). We didn’t do that. We were just like, ‘Train a little on your own, train with your main team, if you get called to the national team…’ We tried to just bring it down a level and kind of let him achieve what he achieved and let it kind of develop on its own, because I think that is way too much pressure if we were putting him in all those different training environments.”

     Kelley Pulisic in an interview with Soccer Parenting Association

When you watch his highlights from 2017/2018 in one of the most competitive leagues on the planet, it makes you wonder…what are they putting in the water out in Manheim?

Has Pulisic gone from over-hyped to underrated?

Pulisic has been deservedly hyped. US soccer hasn’t produced a player of his quality since…ever.

Since Pulisic arrived on the scene, other US players have followed his lead to Europe as well: Tyler Adams. Weston McKennie. Timothy Weah. All will be key components of the USMNT’s 2022 World Cup qualifying efforts. Their arrival has help relieve some of the burden form Pulisic’s shoulders.

After arriving at Dortmund and USMNT senior squads in 2015-16, here’s how Pulisic has fared to date.

From a sheer numbers perspective, Pulisic has been more productive in national duty than for club. However, that doesn’t mean he’s lacking in quality from club. According to StatsBomb, his xGChain effectiveness (how his involvement leads to quality chances) rates just as high as Sancho. His xG90 and xA90 has maintained around the same levels since he exploded on the scene despite managerial and role changes. As seen in the following Understat chart, he’s actually taking more quality shots now than at any point in his career.

As is the case with most things regarding Pulisic, it’s complicated. He deserved the hype before, and there’s no reason to doubt his development today.

 

 

Liverpool vs Porto Champions League Quarterfinal Combined Starting XI: This Won’t Take Long

Chops March 26, 2019

After rolling out our 2019 UEFA Champions League Quarterfinal predictions, we decided to take a deeper look at each match up by putting together a combined starting XI. In theory, the team with the most representatives (and at key spots) should have the advantage.

So, Liverpool vs. Porto.

While not a pundit on the planet is picking Porto, it’s not like the Portuguese club made the quarterfinals by accident. This is a good, balanced, deep squad. What they lack is top-end talent like Liverpool. Virgil van Dijk is the likely PFA Player of the Year. Alisson is one of the best five goalkeepers on the planet and if not for van Dijk, might be top contender for Player of the Year. Sadio Mane and (an in form) Mohamed Salah, along with Roberto Firmino, are still one top 3 most potent attacking trios in any league.

If there’s an area where Liverpool could get overrun its the midfield. But do Porto have the talent there to cause Liverpool real stress?

Liverpool – Porto Combined Starting XI

Porto has played a 4-4-2 in the Champions League where Liverpool has predominantly gone 4-3-3 (with an occasional switch to 4-2-3-1). For this exercise, we’ll stick with the 4-3-3.

Liverpool are red, Porto are blue.

For Porto, only Éder Militão at center-back and Yacine Brahimi in an attacking role cracked the combined XI, and that’s somewhat by default. A healthy Joe Gomez would likely have bumped Militão, but he gets the nod today. Alex Telles is an attacking left-back who deserved consideration, but Andy Robertson has been the best attacking left-back on the planet for most of 2018-19.

Liverpool’s midfield has been the club’s weak link. However, Fabinho has been world-class as a defensive center-mid. Gini Wijnaldum has enjoyed his overall best and steadiest season. He may not jump off the screen, but he’s a critical cog into Liverpool’s stingy goals-against tally. For Porto, Yacine Brahimi has been garnering Premier League interest for years. The 28 year-old might finally make his way to England this summer (possibly to Everton).

The front three belongs to Mane, Salah, and Firmino. When just clicking at 75%, they’re better than 90% of the attacking combinations in European soccer.

For manager, the advantage goes to Liverpool as well. While Jurgen Klopp has made some questionable decisions this campaign (particularly recently with the juggling of his midfield), Liverpool are still atop the Premier League table, in the Champions League quarterfinals, and likely advancing to the semis.

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