After having led the Bundesliga table, Borussia Dortmund‘s performance dropped dramatically in the last six matches. They lost twice, embarrassingly. A 5-0 loss against Bayern Munich (6th April 2019) and 4-2 against Schalke 04 (27th April 2019). But in four of those six matches, Borussia Dortmund had a player who managed to perform brilliantly: Christian Pulisic. This tactical analysis will discuss changes in his performance through statistics.
This increase in performance also allows Borussia Dortmund to take the title race to the final day before his permanent move to Chelsea in the Premier League.
Christian Pulisic impact on Dortmund’s recent matches has been positive, scoring two goals in his last four matches. Almost all of his attacking statistics in the last four matches have increased compared to his previous matches.
Christian Pulisic’s improvements in 2019
Unlike Dortmund which experienced a decline in performance, Christian Pulisic actually experienced an increase in performance, especially in his eight matches this calendar year. Pulisic suffered a torn muscle fibre and other injuries which left him out of eight Bundesliga matches throughout 2019.
Despite missing half of the league matches with Borussia Dortmund this year, Pulisic was able to show his influence by scoring three goals (out of four throughout the season), 2.74 xG (out of 3.50), 19 shots (out of 26), and 57 dribbles (out of 126).
Pulisic’s xG (expected goals) is one of the statistics that experienced an increase. Throughout this season he averages 0.35 xG per match. But against Hertha Berlin (March 16, 2019) he managed to register 1.1 xG.
We can only wonder if Borussia Dortmund could have performed better throughout 2019 if Christian Pulisic wasn’t injured and didn’t miss eight league matches. In the 16 league matches this year, Dortmund drew four times and lost three.
A great dribbler
One of Pulisic’s main ability is his dribbling skill. In total, he recorded 126 dribbles this season in the Bundesliga. That number was ranked 17th in the league, far below Jadon Sancho (260 dribbles), Thorgan Hazard (223), and Kingsley Coman (191).
The interesting aspect, despite Sancho managing to record more dribbles, is that Pulisic is the second highest dribbler at Borussia Dortmund.
That happened because Sancho had become a regular starter at Dortmund by playing in 33 league matches (2,515 minutes). While Pulisic only played 19 times (904 minutes) throughout this season, with eight of them occurring in this calendar year.
What happens if Pulisic had played more often? Maybe we can take a peek at what happened in the 2017/18 season when he played 2,416 minutes. During that season he recorded 256 dribbles. His lack of playing time this season made his dribble numbers drop dramatically.
Incidentally, Sancho and Pulisic play in the same position. They’re both right wingers. Sancho plays 49% as a right winger and Pulisic 41%; even though both players can play on either flank.
Pulisic’s dribbling statistics
Nonetheless, if we see the number of dribbles per 90 minutes, Pulisic is ranked one in the league with 12.54 dribbles per 90 minutes. This number is above Kingsley Coman (12.51 dribbles per 90 minutes), Franck Ribéry (11.87), Yevhen Konoplyanka (10.39), and even Jadon Sancho (9.3).
A higher number of dribbles doesn’t mean Pulisic beats his marker. He only recorded a 68.3% success rate. However, in his last four league matches, he recorded a 90% success rate.
One of his best showings was when Dortmund drew 2-2 against Werder Bremen (4th May 2019). In addition to scoring one goal, he recorded 13 successful dribbles from 14 attempts (success rate of 93%) in that match. That number is the highest he recorded in one match this season.
Unusually, in that match, Pulisic played more on the left flank. As a great dribbler, Christian Pulisic is a player who is often fouled by opponents. Throughout this season he was fouled 2.29 times per 90 minutes. He became the most player with fouls suffered in Dortmund and 16th most in the league.
Pulisic also has other prominent statistics: progressive runs. He recorded 4.28 progressive runs per 90 minutes. It was the third highest in the league after Ribéry (5.22 progressive runs per 90 minutes) and Arjen Robben (4.34); excelled far above Sancho (3.22).
Will he be suitable for Chelsea next season?
One reason Pulisic can record such high dribble statistics is that Dortmund can support his playing style. Creative players such as Pulisic can appear more dominant if the team is able to master ball possession.
Dortmund recorded an average of 56.6% ball possession (third best in the Bundesliga). In the end, they were able to record 1,138 dribbles or 32.6 dribbles per 90 minutes (second-best in the Bundesliga), with success rate of 68.45% (ranked seventh in the Bundesliga).
However, Christian Pulisic will no longer be a Dortmund player next season. He will move to Chelsea in the Premier League. The question is: will Chelsea’s system work for Pulisic?
If Maurizio Sarri is still a head coach of Chelsea, chances are Pulisic will be suitable to play for the Blues. Sarri’s football philosophy has the characteristic of fluid movement between the attacking trio and high ball possession to minimize opponents’ chances to control the ball.
Throughout 2018/19, Chelsea recorded an average of 62.1% ball possession (second-best in the Premier League after Manchester City). In 2017/18, Sarri’s Napoli side were able to record an average of 60.3% ball possession in Serie A (the highest total).
Next question: Will Pulisic be able to replicate the important role of Eden Hazard at Chelsea next season?
(Not) a replacement for Eden Hazard
This is a bit difficult. So far Chelsea have always been afraid of losing Eden Hazard who recorded 407 dribbles throughout this season (second-best in the Premier League after Wilfried Zaha) with success rate of 79.61% (ranked 10th in the Premier League).
Hazard was able to contribute towards Chelsea’s record of 1,226 dribbles or 30.15 dribbles per 90 minutes (second-best in the Premier League after Crystal Palace) with success rate of 74.06% (the best in the Premier League).
Another aspect that can be a barrier is his position. Eden Hazard often played as a left winger (69% played in that position), while Christian Pulisic was played as a right-winger. Pulisic can also play as a left winger, as he showed when he recorded 13 successful dribbles against Werder Bremen earlier this month.
It remains to be seen whether Pulisic will be able to replace Hazard at Chelsea if Hazard moves. Combining Hazard and Pulisic at Chelsea will be the ideal scenario for Sarri next season.
But if Hazard moves and Pulisic can’t replace him they are in real trouble. If Chelsea’s transfer ban remains, Sarri will have to rely on the tools at his disposal. Callum Hudson-Odoi is a standout name that could fill in the Belgian’s boots.
After all, Chelsea still have players they loaned out this season who can play as a left winger like Kenedy, Mason Mount, Lucas Piazón, Danilo Pantić, and Kylian Hazard.
Of the many Borussia Dortmund players who have experienced an average of decline in their performances, Christian Pulisic has become an anomaly because his performance has increased towards the end of the season. One of the advantages of Pulisic is his dribble ability. Christian Pulisic has outstanding dribbling statistics because of Dortmund’s ball possession style of play.
But Pulisic’s adventure with Dortmund ends this season. He will move to Chelsea when they are likely to lose Eden Hazard.
If we look at the statistics, Pulisic could suit Chelsea’s gameplan because they were both superior in ball possession and dribbling. However, Pulisic’s playing position differs to Hazard, so it seems that Pulisic won’t be a like for like replacement for the diminutive Belgian winger.
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