March 25, 2017

Despite Scoreless Draw, Christian Pulisic Takes Big Step in Revierderby

Football is a beautiful game for many reasons. Not the least of which is that even in a game in which no goals are scored many significant things can still happen. This season’s first Revierderby of is one of these games that, though neither team was able to influence the scoresheet, the nil-nil scoreline was noteworthy.

Many will point to the fact that the draw puts Dortmund eight points behind Bayern for the top spot in the league. Others will point to the fact that this is now the third time in nine games that the mighty BVB attack has failed to score. Yet how Schalke was able to keep their biggest rivals off the scoresheet is very notable, especially for the young American in BVB’s ranks: Christian Pulisic.

Although in America he is already known as somewhat of a footballing messiah, leading young American talent at home and abroad, the 18-year-old has already been cast as the future hope of the U.S. Mens National Team. However, in Germany, Pulisic has had to fight for every moment on the pitch. Since making his debut in the Bundesliga with Dortmund last season, he has managed 9 starts in 16 appearances thus far.

As a result, Pulisic has been little more than a bit player or bringer of energy off the bench up to this point in his career. However, all this changed during the game against Schalke on Saturday.

The first significant development for Pulisic is that after missing the midweek DFB Pokal match with an injury, manager Thomas Tuchel restored him to the Startelf against Schalke. For a kid who spent the first couple games of the season as a spectator from the bench, this is a new found confidence bestowed upon him by his manager. Choosing to play Pulisic from the start shows how important the Pennsylvania native has been to the BVB attack during the 2016/17 campaign so far.

The sentiment from the other manager in this game is even more telling for Pulisic going forward. When Markus Weinzierl sent his Schalke side onto the pitch, he not only sent them out with a 3-man backline for just the 2nd time, but he sent them out with specific instructions: from the way the match was played, it is evident that those instructions were to stop Christian Pulisic, a duty that fell to Sead Kolasinac, who took his assignment in full stride. Especially early on, Kolasinac shadowed Pulisic and whenever the youngster took a touch he was quickly met by the Bosnian international.

Pulisic was frustrated and struggled to get into the game because of this special attention. Not until the late going was he able to really influence the game, but in the end BVB could not put the ball in the back of the Schalke net.

The significance of this defensive strategy against Pulisic is astronomical. In a Revierderby and in a side that featured Mario Götze, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ousmane Dembele, it was Pulisic that Weinzierl saw as the integral piece to shut down. The teenager was seen as the biggest threat in BVB’s lineup and a clear effort to stop him was made by the opponent.

What is more, it worked.

With Pulisic unable to run at defenders and wreak havoc the way he has in other appearances for Dortmund and the United States national team, the dangerous Dortmund attack struggled to create chances. Aubameyang was isolated in a way that we have rarely seen in his Dortmund career since becoming an out and out striker. Finally, and most obviously, the strategy resulted in a clean sheet for Schalke and a much needed point for the Gelsenkirchen club.

Will Pulisic receive this attention every game? It is hard to say, but given the effectiveness of the strategy, Pulisic should get used to this sort of treatment.

If teams continue to key in on him, his stats will suffer in the short term. However, this new attention from opponents is good news for Pulisic’s future; he has reached the next stage in his development, though he is still at a tender age. No longer will he be able to sneak up on Bundesliga opponents. He has become a known quantity and indeed a real threat that needs to be game planned for by opponents.

It is now that Thomas Tuchel, Jürgen Klinsmann and Pulisic himself will find out what the American phenom is really made of. If he can continue to influence games from here on out American and BVB fanatics will know for sure they have a real player on their hands for years to come.

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A tight knit family from the small Bavarian village of Kirchzell sparked an interest in the Bundesliga and German culture, even though Chris was born half a world away in New Jersey. A video producer and editor by profession, I talk soccer all day and decided to write it down. @ChrisBrase22

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