Christian Pulisic on Wednesday night made his first appearance in England since the announcement of a £58m deal which will take him to Chelsea next season.
The Borussia Dortmund winger played in the German side’s 3-0 Champions League defeat against Tottenham at Wembley and Blues fans looking for early signs that their club have made a great investment will perhaps have been left disappointed.
It would be harsh to judge the United States international on this one appearance, but he cut a largely frustrated figure on the left flank and failed to impress on this occasion.
He was peripheral to the action for long periods and even when Dortmund had spells of dominance during the first half, it was England international Jadon Sancho on the right who stole the limelight.
Pulisic fashioned two decent chances for himself, but lacked composure in his finishing. He dispossessed a dithering Juan Foyth in the first half, only to snatch at his opportunity, firing a near-post effort straight at Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris.
And there was one dash in from the left during the second half when he took on defenders to break into the box, but he was quickly smothered by a resolute Spurs rearguard.
The abiding memory of an unremarkable night was of frustrated body language, some shakes of the head and arms thrown up in disappointment after some mis-controlling of passes, which had the effect of slowing Dortmund breakaways and making them fizzle out.
Not the finished article
Pulisic appears to be a player with potential rather than a complete package, and for the sort of money Chelsea are paying, that seems quite a gamble.
Dortmund legend Sebastian Kehl said of the 20-year-old from Pennsylvania: “He is a very young player and is learning to handle these things. He gets all the support from us [Dortmund] but on the field, he has to work for myself. Now he is just not reaching his performance level.”
He operated in the sort of positions Eden Hazard likes to occupy, but if the intention is to have a ready replacement, should Hazard leave Chelsea in the summer, then that hope seems wide of the mark.
Hazard is brilliant at keeping the ball and winning free-kicks with his speed and dexterity. There were few signs that Pulisic will be able to emulate that – although in fairness, few could.
Pulisic himself said Borussia paid the price for not showing the same levels of concentration and determination in the second half as they had done in the
“We just didn’t come out with the same mentality. We didn’t come out with that lockdown mentality,” he said.
It summed up his night of disappointment at failing to ignite.
Upstaged by Sancho
He may have faded, like the rest of the team, during a shocking second half, but at least Sancho looked the part in the first half. He lit up the place and looked very much at home, whereas Pulisic appeared uncertain and even nervous.
Sancho is younger than Pulisic, but has an assured touch and is brimming with confidence. It is easy to see why he has been wowing them in the Bundesliga this season with his sharp footballing brain, good touches, eye for openings, quick feet, good decision-making and clever assists.
Pulisic seemed to shrink in his shadow, even though he had the potential to do damage against Foyth, who is still finding his way in the Premier League and is prone to lapses, such as being caught in possession. The very best players prey on the vulnerable and Pulisic was unable to deliver.
Too early to judge
Were it not for the price tag, there is no way Pulisic would be judged quite so harshly. He was part of a team on Wednesday night which started brightly and then dissolved alarmingly.
It is a shock, however, that at a time when hyper-inflation in the transfer market seems to have calmed, Chelsea have been willing to shell out so much on a player who has apparently not been as consistently outstanding and reliable as his potential has promised.
But there is still plenty of time, of course, and maybe Chelsea have identified someone who can kick on to higher levels with the right coaching.