It has been a while since everyone in the Premier League played a meaningful match, but for Christian Pulisic, the wait has been even longer.
The U.S. men's national team and Chelsea star was on the verge of returning from a lingering injury when the league halted play due to the coronavirus pandemic in March. His last official action came on New Year's Day, and since then his time has been spent in a seemingly endless wait. First, there was the adductor injury, the effects of which lasted longer than Pulisic or manager Frank Lampard anticipated, turning what originally was a minor, couple-week injury into a multi-month setback.
Then, as his return was imminent, the virus outbreak hit, Chelsea's season was put on pause and Pulisic was reduced to waiting yet again. Now, with Chelsea in a fight for the top four, he's raring to go.
"It was very tough and frustrating going through times like that. I underestimated it and tried to get back as soon as I could because I just wanted to play so bad," Pulisic recently told Chelsea's official website. "If anything, I've given myself a little more time to rest now and make sure that I'm 100% fit. I'd say I'm fully recovered and ready to go as soon as we get back."
Pulisic played a part in Chelsea's 7-1 friendly rout of Queens Park Rangers as the Blues prepare to continue their quest to land a Champions League berth for next season. Chelsea is still technically alive in this season's Champions League competition, too, but it faces a 3-0 deficit to Bayern Munich in the round of 16 after a lopsided home defeat.
Pulisic has all the motivation he needs to make a strong impression down this delayed stretch. With Hakim Ziyech joining Chelsea next season from Ajax and Timo Werner likely to follow suit from RB Leipzig, the club's attack is filling up with options. Pulisic was already fighting the likes of Pedro, Willian, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi for playing time, and while the former two are out of contract and not necessarily returning, it doesn't appear there will ever be a time when complacency can enter the fray for the 21-year-old Pennsylvania native. Such is the lure and challenge of a top-tier Premier League side.
With six goals (half of which came in a hat trick vs. Burnley in October) and six assists in 23 games across all competitions this season so far, Pulisic has fared O.K. in his first campaign since his $73 million move from Borussia Dortmund. Injuries, inconsistency and an inability to lock down a regular starting place have left room for improvement, and while asking him to fully replace Eden Hazard was always going to be unrealistic, there's certainly a desire to see more from him in a blue shirt. The five-and-a-half-month wait to show what's possible will finally end come Sunday at Aston Villa.
As the list of leagues returning to action grows, so does the list of Americans in action abroad. Here are the highlights from the key figures over weekend (all stats via WhoScored):
John Brooks and Wolfsburg suffered a setback in dropping points to Freiburg in a 2-2 draw, eliminating the club from contention for an automatic Europa League berth (the chances were already slim) and reducing the margin for error in its quest to get to the qualifying round. Wolfsburg's lead over Hoffenheim for sixth place is down to just three points. Brooks had a team-high seven clearances, won four aerial duels, put a shot on target, passed at a 78% clip (39-for-50) and was accurate on four of his six long balls.
Tyler Adams came off the bench with RB Leipzig in full control over Hoffenheim, helping see out the 2-0 victory that was effectively sealed 11 minutes in after Dani Olmo's early double. Adams played the final 22 minutes, completed 14 of his 15 passes (including one key pass and one long ball) and helped RBL secure three valuable points in the race for Champions League qualification. With three games to play, Leipzig is six points clear of fifth place.
Weston McKennie returned to Schalke's starting lineup after sitting out a match due to card accumulation and helped the club to its second straight 1-1 draw. McKennie was significantly more aggressive than in past performances, embarking on a team-high five dribbles, and he completed 20 of his 26 passes.
Gio Reyna continues to provide a spark off the bench for Dortmund, though he continues to wait for a berth in the starting lineup, too. In his 16 minutes, Reyna was proactive, pressed, went 9-for-11 passing, drew a foul in a dangerous spot and was part of Dortmund's last-gasp win at Dusseldorf, which extended the title race for at least a couple of days.
Josh Sargent and Werder Bremen are all that's standing between Bayern and that eighth straight Bundesliga title, as the two sides meet on Tuesday. Werder Bremen is coming off an offensive explosion, scoring five in a must-have game against Paderborn. The win–plus the margin of victory–puts Werder Bremen just a goal shy of the relegation playoff place and three points (plus a tiebreaker) out of safety altogether.
Sargent didn't factor into the scoring, but his performance was arguably his best since the restart. He put two shots on target, drew three fouls and was fully engaged in his 77 minutes.
TURKISH SUPER LIG
Tyler Boyd returned with an impactful performance for Besiktas, albeit in defeat to Antalyaspor that hampers the club's chances of qualifying for European competition next season. In Boyd's 65 minutes, he fired off a team-high five shots (only one on target) and completed 20 of his 25 pass attempts.
Jesse Marsch's RB Salzburg is closing in on a seventh straight league title–to go along with the Austrian Cup it recently won–but there's more American influence in the league. Erik Palmer-Brown, the former Sporting Kansas City center back who is on loan at Austria Wien from Man City, scored with a header off a corner kick for his second goal of the season. Palmer-Brown has enjoyed some personal success in Austria's top flight, something that could come in handy for the USA U-23s if Olympic qualifying ever takes place.
2014 WORLD CUP WHEREABOUTS
The last World Cup the U.S. men's national team was a part of was in 2014, in case you needed a harsh reminder, and some of the key members of that squad have had some significant career updates.
Julian Green, who in 2014 was the 19-year-old German-American who effectively took Landon Donovan's place on Jurgen Klinsmann's team, has not exactly had the career most expected of him. Then, he was a Bayern Munich prospect with clear potential and skill. Now, he's finally appeared to find some stability in Germany's second division, signing a new two-year deal with Greuther Furth. He assisted on a goal over the weekend ahead of inking his new deal and has four goals on the season.
Mix Diskerud, who, lest we forget, is on the books at Manchester City, is on loan again, this time in Sweden with Helsingborg. Diskerud wore the No. 10 shirt in Brazil for the U.S. and spent 2018 and 2019 with South Korea's Ulsan Hyundai as part of a well-traveled career.
Fabian Johnson, one of the USA's best players in Brazil, is on the move from Monchengladbach, destination unknown. What is known is that he won't be returning to the Bundesliga side, having mutually agreed with the club to not renew his contract. The versatile winger/fullback has reportedly attracted the interest of multiple MLS clubs (he previously had engaged in talks with FC Cincinnati) and would have to go through the league's allocation order for returning U.S. national team players, but a stateside move could be in the cards. At 32, he's beyond his peak and is going to be coming off a season he largely missed due to injury, but he's worth a roll of the dice at the right price for an MLS team.