An American in Dortmund: Where Should Pulisic Play?
In a match that saw one American (Timmy Chandler) go out with an ugly injury, it was his U.S. national team teammate Christian Pulisic who again impressed in a 2-2 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt. As his team sinks, his star continues to shine in the little things he is doing on the pitch in every match he features in. That raises the question: is he playing in the right place on the pitch, or should Peter Bosz consider moving him to benefit the team and player?
As we discussed in his review for the U.S. national team, for country Pulisic plays centrally and is given absolute independence to roam into open space. You can do this when you are the most naturally talented player on the pitch. Of course, Dortmund are a club full of international stars, and the manager has slotted Pulisic mainly on the right wing to start matches. As we saw in Saturday’s draw with Frankfurt and the midweek match against APOEL, it is obvious why this makes sense. Pulisic is fast and has advanced footwork, which allows him to take on fullbacks or a wide centre-back and create scoring chances or crosses for teammates. Case in point was the Aubameyang almost goal near the death against APOEL where Pulisic sprinted down the length of the pitch and sent in a near perfect cross that just got saved.
So why consider playing #22 in the middle? There are a few reasons why this could be a savvy move for Bosz. First, with the team in a funk, it may help to “shake things up” and show a new look to get the players out of autopilot. Second, with Yarmolenko and Philipp on the wings, Dortmund have quality wide that can cut in or shoot from distance. These more mature players can also make more mature decisions, and it is Pulisic’s decision making that is his biggest knock. Third is the fact that Pulisic does play in the middle for country, but unlike in CONCACAF play, he has talented teammates to draw defenders and not allow them to focus on solely stopping him.
There are three reasons I see, however, why it makes sense to keep him on the right side. The first is Mario Gotze, who is quite good in his own right in the middle. The second is that the worst thing you can do to a speedy player with decision-making issues is put him in a position where his speed is neutralized but his need to make smart decisions with the ball quickly is enhanced. The third, however, is something I saw in the Frankfurt match. Dortmund were struggling at the back, and Marc Bartra had some issues defensively playing out of position on the right. Throughout the game, you saw #22 fly in from behind and provide defensive support; the benefit of being young is your speed and determination are not yet on the downside. Pulisic’s speed helps the defence recover and he can provide that extra little cover his fullbacks need. It’s a small thing but it certainly makes him more valuable out wide for this side.