The 58m American youngster has fallen down the pecking order in recent weeks at Stamford Bridge
Christian Pulisic wore a stony expression in the aftermath of Chelseas victory against Lille. The American winger had spent the evening kicking his heels in the stands, a frustrated figure reduced to watching his new teammates kickstart their Champions League campaign without him at Stade Pierre-Mauroy.
Pulisics early struggles at Chelsea have emerged as one of the more intriguing storylines at the start of the Frank Lampard era. There have been flashes from the 58m signing from Borussia Dortmund, an assist in the win against Norwich in August, a bright display in the Super Cup against Liverpool, but the 21-year-old has been frozen out in recent weeks. His only appearance since the start of September came in the Carabao Cup win against League Twos Grimsby Town last week and he did not even merit a place on the bench against Lille, much to the consternation of the US media.
Early days, of course, but there is a sense that Lampard is not convinced by Pulisic. Chelseas manager has told the American that he must improve in training and was critical of him after the Grimsby game. Viewed through a generous lens, it is a form of tough love from Lampard, who is not short of options in attack. The emergence of Mason Mount has pushed Pulisic down the pecking order and Lampard rates the experience of Pedro and Willian, who marked his 300th Chelsea appearance with the volleyed winner that broke Lilles resistance.
Callum HudsonOdois return is another complication. Three years younger than Pulisic, the England international made his comeback from a serious achilles injury against Grimsby, scoring the final goal in a 7-1 victory, and he has already pushed himself above the USAs best player. Hudson-Odoi came on to create Willians goal in the win against Brighton last Saturday Pulisic was an unused substitute once again and he would lay on another assist for the Brazilian after replacing Reece James against Lille.
This was a big step for Lampard, the first time he could point to a substitution that swung a game in Chelseas favour. Chelseas 3-4-2-1 system worked well at first against Lille, giving them control in the centre, but they lost their rhythm after more shoddy defending resulted in the latest concession from a set-piece. Lampard reacted positively, switching to a back four and bringing on Hudson-Odoi, who made an impact with his willingness to run at defenders on the left.
With Pulisic languishing on the sidelines, the academy graduates have been the stars for Chelsea and that has led to some American fans accusing Lampard of nepotism. Yet favouritism is not Lampards way. He has the command of the dressing room and is not afraid of criticising players if they deserve it, no matter their popularity with supporters.