Christian Pulisic won't need to wait as long for his next Chelsea start as he did for Saturday.
Pulisic started against Burnley for the first time in over a month in all competitions and the first time in two months in the English Premier League. But after Saturday's star turn at Turf Moor, Pulisic should be a fixture in Chelsea manager Frank Lampard's starting XI for the foreseeable future.
The 21-year-old American scored his first, second and third Premier League in Chelsea's 4-2 win over Burnley, becoming the youngest player in club history to score a hat trick.
“Unreal," Pulisic told Sky Sports (H/T NBC Sports Soccer). "What a day for me. I’m even happier with the result and I wish we could’ve gotten a clean sheet, but in the end definitely a special day for me.”
Pulisic is the second American player after USMNT legend Clint Dempsey to score a Premier League hat trick, which is a fitting distinction for a player defined by such lofty expectations. The Hershey, Penn. native made his professional debut for Borussia Dortmund as a 17-year-old, earned his first senior cap in a World Cup qualifier soon after and starred in the Champions League against Real Madrid a month after he turned 18.
Chelsea made Pulisic the most expensive American player ever in January, agreeing to acquire him for a staggering $73.1 million. The USMNT failed to qualify for last summer's World Cup, but Pulisic's promise has provided American fans a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dismal year-and-a-half for the national team.
Pulisic appeared in all four of Chelsea's first Premier League matches and started against Liverpool in the UEFA Super Cup, but his lone start in September came in a League Cup tie against Grimsby Town. After Saturday's win, Lampard pointed to Pulisic's short summer and Chelsea's wealth of attacking options as to why Pulisic couldn't crack the lineup.
“The first few months were definitely hard," Pulisic said. "I had a few starts then I fell out a bit and I had to get any minutes I could. The last few weeks I was able to show that again that I was helping that team ... and I think they saw that and gave me a start today. I didn’t think it was going to happen right away being a big success and coming into a big club like this. It takes time. I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far, and I’m gonna keep going.”
After not even making the bench for Chelsea's Champions League group-stage win over Lille on Oct. 2, Pulisic has not missed a match for Chelsea. He assisted as a second-half substitute on Oct. 6 against Southampton, helped set up Marcos Alonso's late winner against Newcastle on Oct. 19 and assisted Michi Batshuyahi's 86th-minute winner against Ajax in the Champions League on Wednesday.
But Saturday marked Pulisic's best performance in a Chelsea shirt and showcased what makes him such a promising player.
Pulisic first two goals resulted from a pair of unforced Burnley errors, but he quickly initiated Chelsea's counter-attack in both instances, dragging the Clarets defenders out of position and creating plenty of space to shoot. His third was the simplest, but the 5-foot-8 midfielder smartly read Mason Mount's cross and lost his man en route to an unmarked header.
Chelsea's attacking options are plentiful, with Lampard preferring Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi for much of the season. Pulisic now has three goals and two assists in five appearances this month, though, and he's forcing Lampard's hand.
"I’ve tried to deal with it in the way I see best, which is to give him minutes," Lampard said of Pulisic to Chelsea's website after the match. "He has played games this season already, but I’ve also got competition in that area and I need them all trying to perform when they get in the team. Christian has been doing that recently from the bench, he fully deserved his start today and it was a fantastic match-winning performance."
Pulisic surely has deserved a few more starts after Saturday.