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Opinion: Pulisic Needs Some Rest

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Borussia Dortmund v Atalanta Bergamo - UEFA Europa League Photo by Laurens Lindhout/Soccrates/Getty Images

Over the past couple weeks, there have been whispers in the media and on FTW about Christian Pulisic’s less than stellar form. While he’s still playing remarkably for a teenager, there is a bit of concern regarding his goals and assists numbers. I would argue that one of the causes of Pulisic’s struggles in these regards is fatigue, caused by his massive workload.

Simply going by the eye test, he looks tired. His touches seem heavy, his passes seem a bit off, and he appears visibly exasperated at times. In terms of production, he’s actually scoring at a lower rate than he was last year. He’s only gathered three goals and three assists this season, despite playing over 1500 minutes in the Bundesliga alone. He’s cranked this up a bit as of late, with assists against Hamburg and Köln, but he still seems off. Before the winter break, he struggled mightily in the Hinründe; there was a stretch of games where he went 14 consecutive matches without a goal or an assist.

It’s easy to see why fatigue could be such a concern. Of all Borussia Dortmund players, only Sokratis and Bürki have played more minutes than Pulisic. Part of that, of course, can be attributed to Pulisic’s good health. On a notoriously injury-ridden squad, the young American has been remarkably healthy, especially for a 19-year old. As of today, he’s played more than 2000 minutes in all competitions, and has hardly missed a match. He’s nearly reached his minute total from all of last season, and we’ve still got a third of the way to go.

2000 is a huge sum of minutes, especially for a teenager who is still developing physically. The average man does not reach peak physicality until his mid-late 20s. Chronic Fatigue is a common ailment in young athletes, and can lead to a condition called “burnout,” in which a youngster can feel emotionally and physically drained from constant exercise. I’m no physician, so I’m not going to armchair-diagnose Pulisic too hard, but if I were a BVB trainer, fatigue is something of which I would at least be vigilant. Given the heavy string of competitions coming in the Europa League and the Bundesliga, I would be wary of overplaying Pulisic too much.

How did this happen? Pulisic’s heavy use was mostly born out of necessity, because so many of Dortmund’s other wingers have been injured or sold. I’d imagine that if Dortmund had spent the first half with Dembélé and a healthy Reus and Max Philipp, then Pulisic’s minutes played would be significantly lower. Even so, this doesn’t change the fact that his form seems to be suffering.

There are other reasons why Pulisic’s production is low. Poor finishing from himself and other players is a big reason why he only has three goals and three assists thus far. His expected goals and assists, 4.64 and 4.09 respectively, demonstrate this. If he had been on the receiving end of better finishing, then maybe we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.

So, what should be done? The good news is that with Reus healthy and Schürrle returning to form, there are at least two wingers with whom Pulisic can rotate with. The bad news is that there aren’t many other options. Max Philipp might be back soon, but Andriy Yarmolenko, and Jaden Sancho are injured, and won’t be back for at least a couple more weeks. As a result, Pulisic likely won’t be able to rest significantly until these reinforcements arrive. Until then, I believe Peter Stöger should play Pulisic when needed, but try and take him off whenever it can be afforded. Reus and Schürrle can be rotated with Pulisic interchangeably. Worst comes to worst, Aleksander Isak can play as a winger if BVB have a lead. While the options might be limited for the immediate future, it is important that Pulisic get as much rest as possible so that he can carry through the rest of the season.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you think there’s cause for concern in this regard, or am I just being overly cautious? Leave your thoughts below.