An American in Dortmund: Let’s Rewatch that Nutmeg
The best way to summarize Christian Pulisic’s week is to report the video of his nutmeg on Arjen Robben during Saturday’s match against Bayern Munich.
The Bartra finish was pretty, but how about that nutmeg by Pulisic?? 😳 https://t.co/LWEH30eLva
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) November 4, 2017
Keeping possession despite the double team and still finding Bartra for a beautiful goal was likely something many Dortmund fans missed. That’s because, despite the American and maybe a handful of his teammates, Dortmund were head-in-hands dreadful this week. A midweek draw at home against APOEL and a resounding defeat against Bayern leaves the club adrift in all competitions except the Pokal. Going into the international break, Dortmund have been dreadful and face major questions after such a promising start.
Yet Pulisic’s star continues to shine where his teammates may be dimming some. Now it is not just overeager American journalists who are calling him one of the best in Europe – we Americans tend to do that with any football player who shows extreme talent. It is those around him who are raining down the praise when there is little else to praise with this side.
The first is his manager. In a post-game interview, he could not hold back in comparing his young talent to a famous best: “For me, Christian Pulisic was the best player on our team,” Bosz said. “[He was] on a level with our fans, who still supported us despite the 3-0 deficit. That was incredible, I’ve hardly ever seen that before. Christian exuded a lot of pressure and showed great maturity but our fans but our fans were incredible today.” Being compared to the home fans is high praise indeed.
From the other sideline came equally impressive praise. Lothar Matthaus chatted with Sky after the match and was unequivocal about how he felt: “If Bayern Munich someday looks for a replacement for Robben and [Franck] Ribery, then they have to put out their feelers for Pulisic,” he said. Being tabbed as a future target for Bayern is not unusual for a quality Dortmund player, but it still high praise for a 19-year-old.
Did Pulisic deserve this praise this weekend? He did have some defensive deficiencies, failing to properly track back and times and having trouble marking Robben on runs down the wing. That said, it is Arjen Robben so he can be forgiven for an “OK” defensive performance. What is impressive was his ability against a good Bayern defence to use his speed to go by defenders and make the right choice to pass or continue running. Many young players in such a frustrating match would try to do too much but, as we saw with the nutmeg, he is ok with being selfless if a teammate has a better opportunity.
Also what is becoming apparent is that the Messi comparisons were not completely off base. According to ESPN’s Paul Carr after the match, Pulisic had 14 one-v-ones in the Bayern match with eight of them successful, both most by Bundesliga player this season. Only two other players in Europe’s five biggest leagues have attempted that many one-v-ones this year: Messi and Neymar. Dortmund will need this continued productivity to help lift their form, and with word, Pulisic will not be called up for his national team’s friendlies this weekend, he will be able to rest and avoid injury for a vital stretch before the Christmas break.