Christian Pulisic is set to miss Chelsea's next three games after reporting back to London with an ankle injury he picked up on international duty.
Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel confirmed in his prematch press conference that Pulisic had returned to London Cobham on crutches after suffering the injury during the USA's 4-1 win over Honduras in a World Cup qualifier.
The 22-year-old is set to miss Premier League games against Aston Villa and Tottenham in addition to the Champions League opener against Zenit Saint Petersburg between the two domestic fixtures. It is the latest frustrating blow to Pulisic early this season with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis having sidelined the US international for two matches prior to the international break. In total he has made just two appearances for Chelsea this season in the Super Cup win over Villarreal and the opening day victory over Crystal Palace where he scored his first goal of the season.
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Chelsea will also have to do without N'Golo Kante, who returned from his time with the France squad with an ankle issue. However Tuchel said he hoped that the dynamic midfielder would be available for the visit of Zenit to Stamford Bridge and in the meantime he has new signing Saul Niguez available to him.
Injury means more for Pulisic than Chelsea
After an impressive start to the season with a goal on the opening day this will feel like yet another niggling blow for Pulisic, whose Chelsea career has been as defined by the games he has missed as those he has played in. On his day he can be a devastating threat for Premier League defenses but those occasions have been few and far between over recent months.
The harsh truth for Pulisic is that Chelsea will not particularly feel the impact of his absence. He does not get into Tuchel's strongest XI and it is at least fair to debate whether he would get into a second string front three when he is vying with Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Callum Hudson-Odoi. The Blues manager does not lack for trust in his US star and was willing to give him opportunities in the biggest moments of Champions League games last season but it was often as an impact substitute.
Pulisic has qualities that make him stand out among the mass of quality in the Chelsea frontline. No one comes close to taking on opponents as frequently as he does, but the more often he is unavailable the more Tuchel will come to rely on other options. He is no less an admirer of Hudson-Odoi than he is of Pulisic and has consistently shown trust in Werner despite the German's difficulties in front of goal. Those two may not be regular starters but they are consistently available and have been available far more often than not.
Chelsea already know how good Pulisic can be with a run of games in his legs. During the Premier League's post-COVID restart in the summer of 2020 he was one of the best players in the division. He is worth persevering with because the talent is there but he will not need reminding that if he cannot stay fit he will struggle to carve out a clear role in one of Europe's most competitive squads.