As Chelsea fans, we love to reminisce about the days when Eden Hazard would regularly cut through Premier League defences with ease, though one position he never quite managed to perfect in his time at Stamford Bridge was the false nine role.
No matter how talented you are, it seems playing as an unorthodox striker is a difficult berth to fill, and Christian Pulisic made that abundantly clear on Tuesday night.
Chelsea ripped Juventus to shreds in their Champions League clash, with goals from Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Trevoh Chalobah and Timo Werner handing Thomas Tuchel’s side a resounding 4-0 win.
It was hard to pick a fault with the Blues’ performance on the night, though Pulisic struggled to make an impression in an unfamiliar false nine role.
The winger was tasked with spearheading the home side’s attack, with Kai Havertz ruled out through injury and Romelu Lukaku only fit enough for a place on the bench.
Pulisic struggled to really impact proceedings on the night, yet this isn’t the first time us Chelsea fans have been subjected to a talented winger looking lost in the false nine role. Just ask Eden Hazard.
Time and time again the Belgian maestro was asked to fill the shoes of absent strikers during his Chelsea days. Maurizio Sarri and Antonio Conte often flirted around the false nine ideology having struggled to find the right frontline formula.
The problem with wingers playing as a false nine is that they often don’t see much of the ball and this obviously restricts them from playing the way they know best.
“I know what to do, but the feeling is a bit strange because you don’t touch the ball a lot,” Hazard said of the role back in 2018.
Pulisic only managed 20 touches on the ball against Juventus, the fewest amount of touches of the Chelsea starting XI – even Edouard Mendy and N’Golo Kante (who only saw 37 minutes of action) saw more of the ball. His pass accuracy was also the lowest of his side at a disappointing 68.8%.
The American didn’t register a single shot on goal in his 72 minutes on the pitch, a damning indictment of his display given Chelsea’s dominance on the night. In hindsight, maybe Havertz is just that good he makes the role look easy.
Comparing Pulisic’s performance to that of Timo Werner only further highlights the importance of having a natural striker in our team. The German mustered two shots and grabbed himself a goal having replaced Pulisic with just 18 minutes of normal time remaining.
While he may not have been an influential part of Chelsea’s build-up play, he had the striker’s instinct needed when a chance came his way.
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Having that natural instinct to drop deeper than an orthodox striker and then having to get forward into the box at the right time is a difficult skill to perfect. I’ve never liked seeing wingers shoehorned into the false nine role and I hope we don’t see it again.
Pulisic is one of the best young talents in this squad but he’s not Eden Hazard.
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