How Christian Pulisic will fit into AC Milan's line up - and what it means for the USMNT star's career

Christian Pulisic AC Milan 2023-24
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The former Chelsea winger has finally completed a move to the Rossoneri, who could use him in a variety of different ways

It's finally over. Christian Pulisic's Chelsea career has come to an end. Some will say that it has come six-to-12 months after the real expiration date, but it's better late than never, right?

Pulisic's time at Stamford Bridge is over, and it'll be remembered with mixed emotions, from the highs of a Champions League title to the lows of... just about everything else. That postmortem, though, has been written over the last several months. Now, the time has come to focus on the future.

That future will now be at AC Milan. Pulisic has completed a move to another giant of the European game, with the Rossoneri having paid an initial €20 million (£17m/$22m) to sign the United States superstar.

He's almost certainly making a financial sacrifice to move to Italy, as few non-Saudi Arabian clubs are paying players anything close to what Chelsea are offering in the current market. But, in just about every other facet, Milan find themselves in a better place than Chelsea at the current moment.

The Italian giants can offer Champions League football, which is always good. They offer a hell of a lifestyle, with Milan remaining one of the world's most glamorous clubs. And, perhaps most importantly, they offer a legitimate path to playing time that Pulisic never had at Chelsea.

But what does that look like? What can Pulisic expect from Milan, and what can Milan expect from Pulisic when he does get on the field? GOAL takes a look at this new partnership and how Pulisic could fit in at San Siro...

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  1. Pulisic's positions

    Pulisic's positions

    Most of those that follow Pulisic would associate his game with the left wing, and they'd be right. Originally hailed as the ideal replacement for Eden Hazard upon his arrival at Chelsea from Borussia Dortmund, Pulisic was expected to lock down that left-hand side at Stamford Bridge. Naturally right-footed, Pulisic is a player that has the pace to beat defenders to the byline, but also the skill to cut inside and create, making him a fantastic modern winger on that side.

    He plays that same role with the U.S. men's national team, having started on that side almost exclusively in recent years. With Antonee Robinson pushing down the line behind him to create width, Pulisic is free to cut inside and create. In his first 60 USMNT appearances, he has 25 goals and, when all is said and done, he may very well be the USMNT's all-time leading scorer if he continues on this current pace.

    Pulisic, though, is not just limited to the left-hand side. He's played on the right plenty of times, serving as a more natural old-school winger, while also playing a bit of wing-back for Chelsea. He can also play centrally, having been deployed as a No.10 plenty of times during his USMNT career.

    And it's that flexibility that make him such an interesting signing for Milan, who already have a legitimate superstar featuring on Pulisic's favoured flank.

  2. The Leao effect

    The Leao effect

    If you were to make a list of the most dynamic attackers in the world today, Rafael Leao would be right near the top of that list. The 24-year-old Portugal star has blossomed into a superstar in Milan, becoming one of the faces of the club's recent resurgence. After so many years stuck behind their rivals, the Rossoneri are well and truly back, with Leao playing a vital part in getting them there.

    After being named the Serie A MVP after scoring 14 goals in all competitions for Milan's 2021-22 Scudetto-winning team, he followed up that breakout campaign with 16 more goals last season, while also scoring his first and second international goals for Portugal at the World Cup. Interest soon came from all over Europe, including Chelsea, who saw Leao as a potential centerpiece in attack.

    However, in the final weeks of the 2022-23 campaign, Leao signed a contract extension with Milan that runs through 2028. The winger has committed his prime years to the club, where he now has the chance to become a Milan legend.

    When it comes to Stefano Pioli's line up, Leao's name is probably the first name on the teamsheet. So, with that in mind, where does Pulisic fit in?

  3. Just get on the field
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    Just get on the field

    The initial thought, for some at least, would be panic. For years, Pulisic's fans have watched him be relegated to the bench due to other options. Injuries, form, managerial decisions... Whatever the reason, Pulisic missed out on far too many moments on the field.

    Because of that, any move away from Chelsea is a good move. For Pulisic, the most important thing, especially at this point in his career, is to play.

    From a USMNT perspective, would it be nice to see Pulisic dominating on the left wing, the position he plays internationally? Of course. But is it necessary? Not really. Similar to Tim Weah, who himself is looking at a position switch in Serie A, Pulisic will benefit greatly from simply getting on the field, wherever it may be.

    It's not that Milan will be playing him as a central defender, after all. No matter where he lines up in attack, he'll be using the same mental and physical attributes, albeit from different spots on the field. And, from a USMNT perspective, a bit of versatility never hurt anyone, right?

    Because of that, Leao isn't as much a problem as it is a solution. Pulisic will be lining up next to a truly world-class attacker, which is always a good thing. The question, then, is this: where exactly will Pulisic play?

  4. Milan under Pioli

    Milan under Pioli

    To understand where Pulisic may play, you first have to understand the man that will be making the decisions. Pioli is the architect of Milan's resurgence, having taken over the team in 2019. In the years since, he's led Milan to the club's first Scudetto in over a decade as well as a Champions League semi-final.

    Pioli, largely, has utilized a 4-2-3-1 throughout his managerial career, although last season saw Milan also play a 3-4-2-1 formation to accommodate their strong core of central defenders. The Italian manager is also a coach known for getting the most out of young players, as evidenced by several key stars currently in Milan's team. Which leads us back to Pulisic, who should play a key role no matter the system.

  5. On the right

    On the right

    The most obvious spot for Pulisic is on the right side of Milan's attack. He's familiar with the position, of course. According to Transfermarkt, Pulisic has actually played 27 more games as a right winger than on the left, although he has been far more prolific from the left-hand side.

    In 80 games as a left-winger, Pulisic has 22 goals and 12 assists, a respectable haul. On the right, he has 11 goals and 25 assists. It's a good illustration of what it means for him to switch sides. When playing on the right, Pulisic cuts in and creates for himself. When on the left, as a right-footed player, he creates more for others.

    Pulisic will face competition from the likes of Alexis Saelemaekers, Junior Messias, and Ante Rebic, but that trio is far from a group of world-beaters. Pulisic is certainly the best player of that bunch and would be the favorite to play opposite Leao on the wing. That doesn't mean he will, however...

  6. Down the middle
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    Down the middle

    Heading into the season, Milan will be doing so without a key piece in Brahim Diaz. The Spanish star's two-year loan spell is over and he's now returned to Real Madrid, signing a new contract in the process. That leaves Milan without their No.10, so could Pulisic be the player to step in?

    Milan do have a player in Charles De Ketelaere that plays in that slot, although the Belgian can move around the attack. But, with Diaz leaving, there is a big gap in the middle for a player like Pulisic to come and claim.

    He's played as a No.10 before, notably with the USMNT when the program was trying to find new ways to get Pulisic on the ball. It didn't always come off, of course, but Pulisic has grown a bit since then.

    Looking back at Transfermarkt, Pulisic's most prolific position is actually as a central player. He has 23 goals and 20 assists in 79 appearances down the middle. It's safe to say that Milan would be very, very happy if Pulisic was a 10-goal, 10-assist kind of guy from that central role, which is just about what those numbers project out to.

    It would be a bigger change than a move to the right wing, of course, but Pulisic has the skillset required. He's comfortable on the ball and can create for himself or others. Pioli is reportedly high on Pulisic as that No.10 in a 4-2-3-1 and, if history is any indication, the coach has a pretty good idea about those sorts of things.

  7. Life at Milan
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    Life at Milan

    All of this positional debate is a moot point, though, if one aspect of this doesn't come together. If Pulisic isn't happy and confident, it won't really matter, will it?

    The good news is that Milan is a club that seems perfectly suited to make Pulisic happy and confident. Away from the pressure of the Premier League, and the ongoing circus that is Chelsea Football Club, Pulisic should find a pretty good work environment.

    Milan are in the Champions League, giving Pulisic that big stage he craves, and should be expected to push for another Serie A title. The Italian league is perhaps in its best moment since its 1990s heyday, with the likes of Milan, Inter, Napoli, Juventus, Fiorentina and Roma all competing for major titles in recent years.

    Pulisic will also find some familiar faces in Milan in the form of ex-Chelsea stars Fikayo Tomori, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Olivier Giroud, the latter of whom has already said he'd be thrilled to welcome the American to Italy.

    "He was a happy boy, always good vibes, smiling," Giroud told Morning Footy back in May. "It was easy to have a laugh with him. My understanding on the pitch with him was top, a bit like Eden [Hazard], even if I played less with Christian. He's that kind of player who is very skillful. He can dribble, play the one-two. He knew how to use me on the pitch and vice versa.

    "We had good times together and I hope he can get rid of the injuries, get better and get more consistency and more games, because he's a very, very talented player... I think people here would love [if he came to Milan]. It's definitely a big name in Europe, so he would help us."

  8. What it all means
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    What it all means

    For Milan, this all does feel like a no-brainer. The club is getting a low-risk, high-reward star who already has World Cup and Champions League success on his resume. The club, for all of its failures over the last decade or so, is back to a place where it can recruit players like Pulisic, who, despite his ups and downs, is a player that can lift them on and off the field.

    He's a player that can play in three positions, and someone that, at just 24, is still not in the prime of his career. There's really no downside to this, especially considering the relatively-cheap fee they're paying for him.

    And for Pulisic, it's a chance at redemption, and perhaps his last chance to prove he can truly make it at one of the world's elite clubs. It is important to understand that, if this fails, it likely will be his last real opportunity at a true megaclub. Not there is any shame in that, mind you. It's a cold world out there, which is something he will have learned at Stamford Bridge.

    He wouldn't be the first Chelsea star to find a better home elsewhere and, given the pure number of players in their squad, he won't be the last. Milan is his chance to prove that it was Chelsea, not him, that was the problem. It's his chance to show, if not for the injuries, he can be the player that many expected him to be when he arrived.

    It's a new time, a new era, for Pulisic, and Milan will be hoping that his best days are ahead of him.