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Pulisic to return for US in final World Cup warm-up

Christian Pulisic will return to spearhead the United States in their final World Cup warm-up friendly against Saudi Arabia, US coach Gregg Berhalter confirmed on Monday.

Chelsea forward Pulisic was a late withdrawal from the USA’s 2-0 defeat to Japan last Friday, but has recovered and will lead the US attack against the Saudis in Murcia, southern Spain, on Tuesday.

Pulisic’s absence was keenly felt in an abject US performance against Japan in Dusseldorf, where Berhalter’s side failed to get a single shot on target in 90 minutes.

Berhalter said he wants to “just let Christian be Christian” against fellow World Cup qualifiers Saudi Arabia.

“He does a great job of changing the game in moments, and that’s all he needs to do,” Berhalter said of Pulisic on a video call.

“He doesn’t need to do anything more than he has done in the past. Just needs to continue to play our game, and  he does that really well. He just needs to be himself.”

With just 90 minutes of play remaining before the USA kick off their World Cup campaign against Wales on November 21, Berhalter is looking for a significant improvement against on Tuesday after the lacklustre showing against Japan.

“It was a poor performance from us. We got our butts kicked,” Berhalter said of the Japan loss. 

“We’re not proud of it and we think we should have played a lot better than we did. So we want to play better this game. 

“But it starts with the collective, us playing together, being more cohesive. If we do that we’ll be fine.”

Berhalter also wants to see an improved performance from his defensive players after a careless display against Japan that saw the USA give the ball away 54 times in their own half in the first 45 minutes.

“It’s just decision-making — identifying who the free man is, identifying where the pressure is coming from, and then exploiting that. That’s something we didn’t do a great job of,” Berhalter said.

Berhalter’s final World Cup preparations have been disrupted by injuries, with Yunus Musah, Tim Weah, Antonee Robinson, Zack Steffen, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards all missing.

The US coach said while he has an idea of his strongest starting line-up for the team’s opening World Cup game against Wales, he expects his hand may be forced by injury.

“Ideally in a perfect world, I have it in mind,” Berhalter said of his preferred starting line-up.

“But the one thing I know is that that’s not international soccer. Do I think that we have the best players in each position identified? Yes. Do I think they’re all going to be available for the World Cup? I don’t know. 

“And that’s just what every international manager will be dealing with right now and holding their breath, hoping that that’s the case.

“Even in this camp we’re missing five starters so you know it’s just is what it is, and you got to roll with it. 

“You can’t use it as an excuse. And what you need to do is give the players that are here confidence instead of worrying about the players that aren’t here.”

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