Why is Pulisic being compared to Hazard ?
The brain’s most basic pattern recognition method is template matching. Incoming information is compared to different templates inside your head to find a match.
But as English historian Thomas Fuller once said “Seeing is believing, but feeling’s the truth”. That’s the feeling when you are on the edge of your seat anticipating what Eden Hazard or Christian Pulisic will do on the ball.
Well, last year’s Hazard not this one. It’s easy to forget how good he was due to his miserable campaign with Real Madrid this season. Yet, Hazard was Chelsea’s most important player in 2018–19 and arguably the Premier League’s best player in the second half of the last decade.
Pulisic’s recent form after the restart is giving Chelsea fans a similar feeling to that of Hazard’s. Comparing both would be unfair to Hazard, but what is driving the comparisons is what both bring to Chelsea in comparison to the other options.
Watching Hazard’s goal against West Ham last season you are simply stunned by the ethereal dribbling and quick feet.
Away from the dribbling and exquisite finishing. It’s the movement towards the free central space and directness of the attack that allows him to make the impact. Hazard wasn’t only a winger, he was Chelsea’s main creator and that was needed heavily when Maurizio Sarri’s style of play wasn’t clicking.
Chelsea have missed those qualities in addition to Hazard’s various attributes. The issue after Hazard left was that none of their wingers had this ability. Mason Mount has the tendency to go inside when playing wide, but he is always searching for a combination play with the forward or the midfielder rather than directly going at the opponent.
What Pulisic has been offering lately is direct penetration and inside movements to the central of the pitch. Rings a bell ? Pulisic’s movement isnide frees him and at the same time provide a passing option for his team-mates.
Once he gets the ball his directness towards the goal is key — the numerous counter-attacks against City are an example. Here, he spots Willian and squares the ball to him. The directness and speed of the attack didn’t allow Crystal Palace time to adjust their marking.
Demanding of the ball inside the pitch is another feature that links Pulisic heavily with Hazard. The latter would do the exact same thing, going inside and demanding the ball before trying to dribble vertically past the opponents.
When Pulisic received the ball here he went inside rather than out wide to combine with his full back. This is what singles out Pulisic in comparison to the rest of Chelsea’s wingers, he is willing to go directly at the opponent before combining with another Chelsea player. He then attracted pressure and played the ball over Watford’s defence for Olivier Giroud who probably should have had a shot at goal.
In a different attack Pulisic goes inside untracked by neither Watford’s midfield or defence. The positioning is key, because from here he can either directly dribble past Watford’s defence or play it out wide to Cesar Azpilicueta.
Pulisic goes wide and his directness leads him into the box to offer an aerial threat next to Giroud. This is another feature which makes him a superior option to the other Chelsea wingers. Bearing in mind Hazard didn’t have the same aerial ability but it had nothing to do with height, Pulisic is actually shorter than the Belgian by 2 cm.
Upon receiving the ball wide Pulisic doesn’t wait for a team-mate to combine with. He has the ability to go inside or outside by himself and dribble past the opponent with his lightning feet.
Then when the ball is moved to the other side he tends to go inside the box to offer an aerial threat.
The type of positioning Hazard used to offer was missed by Chelsea. Their wingers tend to stay wide rather than going inside and offer a passing option. Pulisic on the contrary is constantly going inside to provide that passing option during the build up. Chelsea’s problem however is that they don’t have a center-back capable of playing the pass into Pulisic.
Even when the ball is on the other side, Pulisic moves inside to a number 10 position to either link up or do the job himself.
In this example he did it himself, cutting through the West Ham defence. His cross here misses Giroud’s head by a hair’s length and denies Chelsea the equalizer.
The equalizer came minutes after and the origin of Willian’s free-kick was Pulisic’s positioning and directness. Firstly, he goes inside offering Mount a progressive passing option.
Then sprints directly towards the center seeking to go past the West Ham defenders or have a strike on goal. Declan Rice fouls him and Chelsea equalize from the free-kick.
Hazard and Pulisic offer Chelsea something that none of their other options did. A winger who goes inside to create while maintaining his directness towards the goal, whether through electrical dribbling or quickness of the feet.
Lampard’s Chelsea are still a job in progress. Signs are promising though, and the addition of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner will offer Lampard with more options to adjust his team.
The similarity in what Pulisic and Hazard offer triggers a certain part in the viewer’s brain. Information is processed and it hits a match. A Chelsea player is giving us something different to what we currently have, and more importantly making the difference.
That is why subconsciously the comparison starts.