Borussia Dortmund attacker Christian Pulisic is set to reprise his number 10 role for the United States during the upcoming international break. Will this approach help the 20-year-old prove decisive for his club in the Bundesliga title race?
Pulisic has been starved of opportunities in the Bundesliga of late, with four layoffs through injury and intense competition for places in a high-performing Dortmund squad seeing him get more limited game time than usual during the 2018/19 season.
After getting through the full 90 minutes of a chaotic game, Pulisic returned home to link up with his national team, who will play two friendly matches during the international break.
Meetings with Ecuador in Orlando on 21 March and Chile in Houston on 26 March represent the first chance for Pulisic to impress new USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter, who told bundesliga.com recently that the Dortmund player could be “the catalyst for our attack.”
Berhalter, who enjoyed wins over Panama and Costa Rica in his first two games in charge, has now confirmed that he wants to see Pulisic in a number 10 role.
“In this camp we’re going to look at him as the number 10 slanted to the left,” the former Energie Cottbus and 1860 Munich defender said.
“We’ve played with two number 10s last camp - we’re going to do the same this camp. Within that structure, what we’ve seen is there is flexibility.
Watch: Check out Pulisic's best goals for Dortmund
“When you looked at last camp, there’s times when the wingers go inside and the 10s go wide, and we just want to see how that looks. We want Christian to be flexible. We want to take advantage of his one-v-one, but we also want to get him in front of goal.
“With Christian, and I’ve been consistent saying this, we want to find a spot where he can affect the game and he can get more out of his teammates, and also put him in position to score goals and make assists.”
Pulisic has often played centrally for the U.S. before, but at Dortmund he is more used to playing on the wing. The attacker’s versatility is undoubtedly one of his strengths, as highlighted again when he started on the right wing against Hertha before switching with Jadon Sancho to play the second half on the left.
With striker Paco Alcacer and natural number 10 Mario Götze missing the trip to the capital, Pulisic was given the chance to stake a claim for a bigger role during what looks to be an epic battle for the title with defending champions Bayern Munich.
The American certainly put in a shift, covering more ground (7.6 miles) than any other visiting player bar midfielder Thomas Delaney. He won more tackles (18) than anyone on the pitch, and only Dortmund right-back Marius Wolf had more touches of the ball than his 69.
Seven of Dortmund’s 25 attempts on goal came from Pulisic, and the man from Hershey will no doubt feel he should have added to his tally of five goals in all competitions this season.
Pulisic had only made his comeback from his latest injury as a late substitute in the home game against VfB Stuttgart a week previously. In just over 10 minutes on the pitch, he set up Alcacer for the lead goal in the 3-1 win, before closing the game out in injury-time by getting on the scoresheet in a league match for the second time this season.
Given BVB’s injury problems, the American is likely to get more chances to make an impact before he leaves for Chelsea in the summer. Maximilian Philipp is out for the foreseeable future with a knee injury, Götze has a broken rib, and Alcacer has been dogged by persistent niggles throughout the season.
Dortmund will be happy if Pulisic can add to his match sharpness on international duty following the leg muscle injury that kept him out for over two weeks in February and early March.
“I’m not too concerned about where he’s lining up,” Berhalter told bundesliga.com earlier this season.
“We want him affecting the game. We want him playing between the lines, taking on players one-on-one, and it will be up to the team to get him in – and find him – those positions.”
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Dortmund boss Lucien Favre, who hailed Pulisic’s “enormous potential” soon after he took over last summer, would no doubt say something similar. The Swiss coach will need all the help he can get as his side try to get back above Bayern before the end of the season, and seeing Pulisic flourish in a number 10 role for his country could give him pause for thought.
If Pulisic remains fit for the rest of the season, however, he could be a huge asset wherever he plays in the final eight league matches. The American said recently that he wants to “finish strong” in his fourth and final season with Dortmund’s first team, and the club may well need him to if they are to be crowned German champions for the first time since 2012.