Pulisic 'very frustrated' but does the Chelsea attacker deserve to start more regularly?

By Sports Desk May 06, 2021

Christian Pulisic admitted to being "very frustrated" at being left out of Chelsea's starting line-up for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final second leg with Real Madrid.

The United States international scored a crucial away goal for the Blues in last week's first leg but was named among the substitutes for the return fixture at Stamford Bridge.

He again made his impact known, however, by setting up a goal for Mason Mount 18 minutes after being introduced from the bench in the 2-0 win, which saw Chelsea through 3-1 on aggregate.

"I'm very frustrated," Pulisic, who has struggled with injuries this term, told CBS Sports. "There's not much else to say. I wanted to play from the beginning, as I always do.

"I've had to continue to prove myself over and over again. But, as always I reach out to God and he gives me strength. With that behind me, nothing can stop me really."

A look at the Opta stats shows Pulisic has a right to be frustrated, having now scored and assisted a combined four goals in the Champions League in nine appearances this term.

Only Olivier Giroud and Timo Werner have been directly involved in more (both six) - in eight and 11 games respectively.

For comparison, Mount - who has been superb for Chelsea this season - has three direct goal involvements in 10 Champions League games, while Kai Havertz has two from 11 respectively.

Focusing on the Premier League, meanwhile, Pulisic has four goals and one assist in 23 appearances this term, just 14 of those being starts.

Pulisic's average of a 0.26 goals per 90 minutes is slightly better than Havertz's return of 0.25 and behind only Giroud (0.5) and Tammy Abraham (0.52) among Chelsea's attackers. Werner, for context, averages 0.23.

The 22-year-old also performs better when it comes to chances created per 90 minutes in the English top flight when compared to Havertz - 1.37 to the German's 1.07.

But Pulisic still ranks some way below Hakim Ziyech, who has created 2.54 chances per 90 minutes this season and will also perhaps feel that he should be starting more often.

Mount (2.68) and Callum Hudson-Odoi (2.71) lead that particular metric, incidentally, which only highlights just how many options Thomas Tuchel has available in that zone.

One area Pulisic struggles in comparison to his attacking rivals is passing accuracy in the opposition half - 80.95, which is lower than Havertz's 84.3, Mount's 85.45 and Hudson-Odoi's 85.65. ​

The American's win rate when starting games also does not make for good reading.

The Blues have won 13 and lost just two of the 20 league games Pulisic has not featured from the beginning this term, compared to four wins and five losses in the 14 games he has been included in the XI.

Chelsea average 1.8 league goals with Pulisic in their starting line-up, as opposed to 1.3 without, while their average goals against rises from 0.6 to 1.4 when he starts.

Tuchel ultimately knows best when it comes to his team selection - and he is backed up by the possibility of a Champions League and FA Cup double - so Pulisic will simply have to keep proving himself if he is to hold down a regular starting spot.

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  • Dyche replaces Lampard at struggling Everton Dyche replaces Lampard at struggling Everton

    Sean Dyche is the manager Everton have turned to as they aim to stave off relegation from the Premier League.

    Everton sacked Frank Lampard last Monday following a 2-0 defeat at West Ham – the Toffees' eighth defeat in the space of nine games.

    The last time Everton won a competitive match was on October 22 last year, and they find themselves in 19th place, level on points with Southampton, who are bottom only due to goal difference.

    Dyche was reportedly the Merseyside club's second choice, with owner Farhad Moshiri wanting to appoint former Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa, who held talks with the club's hierarchy in London on Thursday.

    However, Bielsa is said to have been hesitant to join Everton in mid-season, and reports have claimed the Argentine instead suggested he would take over the club's under-21s side, with a view to managing the first team following the end of the campaign.

    With survival Everton's priority, Dyche has been handed the job on a two-and-a-half-year deal.

    Speaking to the club's media, Dyche said: "It's an honour to become Everton manager. My staff and I are ready and eager to help get this great club back on track.

    "I know about Everton's passionate fanbase and how precious this club is to them. We're ready to work and ready to give them what they want.

    "That starts with sweat on the shirt, effort and getting back to some of the basic principles of what Everton Football Club has stood for for a long time... There is quality in this squad. But we have to make them shine. That's the job of me and my staff."

    Dyche was sacked by Burnley in April last year, after 10 years in charge of the Clarets.

    His last win at Burnley came against Lampard's Everton, and although his temporary replacement Michael Jackson had a good start, taking 10 points from a possible 12, he was unable to keep the Clarets in the division.

    Everton stayed up thanks to a 3-2 comeback win over Crystal Palace but have won just three top-flight games this campaign, having struggled for goals following Richarlison's move to Tottenham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin's injury issues.

    Dyche is reuniting with two of his Burnley regulars in the form of James Tarkowski and Dwight McNeil, while he should have funds to spend in the final days of the January transfer window following the sale of Anthony Gordon to Newcastle United in a deal reportedly worth up to £45million.

    The former Watford manager gained promotion with Burnley in 2014, and though they went straight back down, he took them back up to the top tier in 2016.

    He established Burnley as steady competitors for the best part of six years, even qualifying for Europe in the 2017-18 campaign, and now will be tasked with maintaining Everton's long top-flight status.

    Dyche took charge of 258 Premier League games at Burnley, winning 72 (27.9 per cent) and averaging 1.1 points per game.

    His first game at the helm of Everton will come at home against league leaders Arsenal on February 4, with a Merseyside derby at Anfield following nine days later.

  • Howe claims the best is yet to come from Newcastle new boy Gordon as Shelvey set for Forest Howe claims the best is yet to come from Newcastle new boy Gordon as Shelvey set for Forest

    Eddie Howe believes Anthony Gordon will be a hit with the Newcastle United supporters and confirmed Jonjo Shelvey is in the process of leaving the club.

    Gordon joined Newcastle from struggling Everton over the weekend.

    Newcastle have reportedly paid an initial £40million for the 21-year-old, with an additional £5m due in add-ons.

    Gordon handed in a transfer request at Everton last week, having missed three training sessions, though Howe has no concerns over the winger's attitude.

    "He'll give us a lot," Howe said in a press conference ahead of Tuesday's EFL Cup semi-final second leg against Southampton.

    "He's a young player with huge potential to have a big impact on our season.

    "Very quick, dynamic. He's versatile and can play on both sides. The best is yet to come from him. I've got no doubts about his character. He is fiercely determined and ambitious.

    "I believe he will fit our style of play. He is an incredible athlete and has the ability to run box-to-box at very high speed.

    "I think he has the athletic durability that we want in our wide players. He has the passion that the fans will feed off but Anthony will have to earn that support."

    Gordon's fiery side was on show when Everton lost at St James' Park in October, clashing with Kieran Trippier, Fabian Schar and Nick Pope.

    "It's interesting looking back at the footage, I like that he didn't stand down that day. He was aggressive," Howe added.

    "The supporters and his team-mates will grow to love that about him."

    While Gordon has bolstered Newcastle's attacking options, Howe is set to lose midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, who is on the verge of following Chris Wood to Nottingham Forest.

    "Jonjo has had injuries this season and certainly I would not want to lose him," Howe said of the former Liverpool midfielder.

    "I have to understand again, similar to Chris Wood, the player's wishes with his contract coming to an end.

    "It will be very difficult to keep Jonjo currently, with where he wants his career to go. We can keep players who want to leave – there is nothing to say that every player that wants to leave you have to let go.

    "But you have to take every situation independently and try to judge everything, judge what is best for him and the club.

    "This is a very difficult situation. From a footballing perspective, I definitely want to keep Jonjo, I rate him highly. Jonjo I believe is talking to Nottingham Forest, I don't know what stage that is at."

    Newcastle have been linked with a loan move for Sheffield United's Sander Berge and Howe confirmed he wants a replacement for Shelvey, though acknowledged it would be "very difficult" to sign another player on a permanent basis in the final two days of the window.

  • Fifteen years on from Portsmouth stunner, was Ronaldo ever a great free-kick taker? Fifteen years on from Portsmouth stunner, was Ronaldo ever a great free-kick taker?

    Cristiano Ronaldo has scored many famous goals.

    Undoubtedly, though, one of his most celebrated strikes came 15 years ago, on January 30, 2008.

    On a winter evening at Old Trafford, Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth rocked up in fine form on the road, having won seven of their 12 away games in the Premier League.

    Yet Ronaldo, in the midst of a 31-goal season in the top tier, was the difference. 

    Having put Manchester United ahead in the 10th minute, Ronaldo stepped up, just under 30 yards out from goal, three minutes later.

    His free-kick, taken in what would become his trademark style, went up, over the wall and swerved remarkably into the right-hand corner. David James, the Portsmouth goalkeeper, had no chance.

    That goal is often thought of as the typical Ronaldo free-kick. Power, panache and pinpoint accuracy.

    But is Ronaldo actually as good as a free-kick taker as that goal might suggest? Using Opta data, Stats Perform has taken a look.

    Quantity, not quality?

    Since that goal against Portsmouth up until the day his second spell at United ended (November 23, 2022), Ronaldo had more shots from direct free-kicks than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

    Of the 645 shots Ronaldo had, 41 resulted in a goal. That is from 700 club games, across stints at United, Real Madrid and Juventus.

    On the face of it, that goal tally does not stand out as particularly impressive, at least given the fact that Ronaldo netted 619 times in total.

    Yet he is behind only Lionel Messi (who else?) when it comes to goals from direct free-kicks, with the Barcelona great scoring on 51 occasions from such situations.

    That gives Messi an 8.1 per cent conversion rate from free-kicks in that timeframe, in contrast to Ronaldo's 6.3 per cent.

     

    Naturally, given their status in the game, Ronaldo and Messi will almost always pull rank when it comes to set-pieces, especially at a free-kick in a dangerous position.

    Miralem Pjanic, who ranks third for direct free-kick goals and was a club-mate of both players at Barca and Juve respectively, boasts better conversion rate than either (nine per cent).

    Neymar's 13 goals from 147 attempts gives him an 8.8 per cent success rate, while James Ward-Prowse's 12 per cent (15 from 125, though this figure of course does not account for his strike against Everton earlier in January) is close to double what Ronaldo managed.

    Indeed, when ranked against players from Europe's big five leagues that scored 10 or more direct free-kicks between January 31, 2008 and November 23, 2022, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dani Parejo had lower conversion rates than Ronaldo.

    Club by club

    So, having established that Ronaldo's free-kick finishing was somewhat erratic following that stunner against Portsmouth, let's check on how he stacked up at each club.

    Across his career in Europe's top five leagues, Ronaldo netted 48 free-kicks in all competitions, from 782 shots (6.1 per cent).

     

    Thirteen of those goals came at United, with five each in his final two seasons of his first spell at the club.

    Indeed, Ronaldo's peak when it came to free-kicks was definitely between the 2007-08 season and the 2013-14 campaign, when he scored 35 times from that type of dead-ball situation.

    His best single season tally was six, in the 2009-10 season – his first at Madrid.

    From 2014-15 onwards he did not manage more than three free-kick goals during a season, while he scored only twice from 86 such attempts while at Juve, and managed no goals from four free-kicks in his second stint at United.

    One of the greats?

    As well as his effort against Portsmouth, Ronaldo has many other memorable free-kicks in the bank.

    His stunning, 40-yard strike against Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi-final; a mesmerising hit from even further out in a Madrid derby in 2012; and who can forget that spellbinding, hat-trick sealing effort that secured a last-gasp draw for Portugal against Spain in a 3-3 thriller at the 2018 World Cup.

    Ronaldo might have gone off the boil from dead balls since the halcyon days either side of his move from Manchester to Madrid, yet there's no doubting that when he hits them true, there's not much any goalkeeper can do.

    While he may not go down as one of the greatest free-kick takers in history statistically, he has definitely been a scorer of some great free-kicks down the years.

    And who knows, maybe there'll be more to come in Saudi Arabia.

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