Christian Pulisic put forth another commendable performance for Chelsea over the weekend, the plaudits from his own locker room are reflecting it and the inevitable Eden Hazard comparisons are as fierce as ever.
To celebrate his July 4, Pulisic drew another penalty and was voted Man of the Match again by Chelsea supporters, which has become a recurring theme since the team returned to play. He hasn't had a bad performance in the five games in all competitions, which are his first matches since a New Year's Day injury that preceded the coronavirus outbreak. As his confidence has grown and the minutes become more regularly, you've seen an increase in his ability to attack the game, to try to make things happen with a more assured bounce in his step. If he's not putting shots on goal, he's drawing direct opportunities for others, evidenced by two penalties he's drawn and other fouls in dangerous areas, which have led to three recent Willian goals.
Considering the expectations bestowed upon him given that his arrival coincided with Hazard's exit to Real Madrid, there has been an intrinsic link between the two, fair or not. A more apt comparison for Pulisic may be Hazard's first year at Chelsea, when he was also 21, as opposed to the in-his-prime Hazard, who departed the club as one of the world's preeminent talents.
Either way, the buzz is building.
“Since he came back from lockdown he has been on fire," Pulisic's Chelsea teammate Ross Barkley said after Saturday's win over Watford. "He had a couple of little niggles earlier in the season, and he didn’t have much of a break last summer before he joined us. So maybe this break has done him a world of good.
"Since he came back he has been blazing. He has been scoring great goals in training and now he has been doing it in matches. He is such a difficult player to defend against, because he is so direct. He is also so confident. He is always ready to try and take a player on. He is a real problem for defenders."
Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, who played with Hazard at Stamford Bridge, was asked, again, about the two and tried to put Pulisic's run of form in proper context.
"Having played with Eden and seen him come to the club at a relatively young age similar to Christian, and we saw the development of him, he had a special talent straightaway of being able to receive the ball, have great balance and go past players so well," Lampard said. "And he would almost draw a lot of players towards him to open up space for others, and he was pretty unselfish in how he would make assists in that way.
"I think with Christian he's possibly more direct in his style sometimes, in terms of how he goes past players and runs off the ball, which I like. Eden would come and get the ball and take it past players a lot. I think with Christian I think sometimes he has a real ability to break a line and run forward, which is a really great trait in the modern game.
"In terms of the comparison, it's why I stayed away from it a bit the other night, because Eden has been here and done it, and did it to an incredible level. Christian has it in his hands to go and make a real impact over a real period of time. The thing I’m so happy with now is that when are playing teams and the games are tough you find it hard to break teams down, he is taking responsibility to change that, to change it in moments by using his ability to turn quickly and go past people. It’s been great to see.
"I keep saying this, but there's a lot of development to come with Christian. I'm very happy with him."
Pulisic has been hearing the comparisons for long enough, and while the temptation to indulge the flattery must be great, he's shown restraint and perspective that should serve him well as he looks to make this five-game run of form into a season- and career-long venture.
"Obviously [Hazard] was an incredible player for Chelsea, he is a world-class player, so I’m not going to try to compare myself to him–just yet," he said. "I’m just going to try to be my own player, and hopefully the fans like that guy."
Pulisic's next game comes against Crystal Palace, the opponent for his first goal at Stamford Bridge back in November.
A repeat showing would only add to the chorus of those who see the U.S. international as Chelsea's Next Big Thing, regardless of whether he or his manager have more tempered thoughts.