Erick Pulgar’s rise to prominence in club and international football hasn’t got sufficient attention. More than anything, it’s been a story of continuous rise and continuous improvement for the Chilean midfielder. The 25-year-old’s performances at Fiorentina have been remarkable, but it’s hardly a surprise. It was probably only meant to be.
In the summer of 2019, there was a clamour for this midfielder that was available for what looked like peanuts. He had done quite well for Chile at the Copa America, playing each and every minute of their effort and helping them finish fourth in the contest. Playing as the defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3 form, Pulgar was winning the ball back and proved crucial in assaulting transitions from deeper midfield.
Since the season has gone, Pulgar has not disappointed.
Under Montella, La Viola was predominantly with a 3-5-2 contour that depended on counter-attacking with two fictitious nines in Federico Chiesa and summer signing Franck Ribery. Breakout star Gaetano Castrovilli are the most innovative midfielder, shining when given the freedom to move.
The club’s inconsistencies and Montella’s strategic inflexibilities against the lower sides did cost him the job. However, Pulgar has arguably become their best player this year. Like the job he did for Chile, he does not only win the ball. In addition, he has an eye for a pass and is eager to permeate opposition defences with his technical skill.
He is not exactly dribbling it beyond defences- something Castrovilli is tasked with. But he’s a tally of 3.1 important passes per game.
It has come with a drawback though. This year has seen the midfielder get dribbled past the largest number of times in one period of his career- 2.4. That’s the maximum tally for any Fiorentina player this year in regards to regular starters. However, this is the first time he is playing a campaign farther forward and less the deepest midfielder. And it’s tapping into his exceptional creative skills also.
At Bologna last year and at the two seasons before that, he’d better death stats than he has this year. From the 2018-19 and the 2017-18 seasons, he played 50 moves per game.
This season, he’s won more tackles than ever as he’s nearer to the crunch pieces of activity in midfield. He plays only 45.6 moves per game but using a greater accuracy. Playing a more box to box function allows him to add more spans from deep, and that’s why he’s played 2.3 crosses per game for the La Viola.
All of it does not establish what Pulgar’s best place is though. However, it reveals how Pulgar can be an extremely versatile midfielder who can adapt to circumstances and situations easily. In the 2016-17 season with the Felsinei beneath Roberto Donadoni, Pulgar was being used at a central midfield position rather than the defensive midfield.
The difference, however, lies in the way he was not as skillful in an attacking sense back then. That later compelled Donadoni to use Pulgar deeper at the 2017-18 season and get the most from his ball-winning and nullify his apparent capabilities on the ball. This assisted Pulgar in being hurried on the ball and order play from deeper positions.
That season, Pulgar had just 0.8 important passes per game. But he can play 4.1 long-balls each game and played a total of 53.3 moves – more than any other rossoblu player. However, it was about last season that Pulgar’s efficacy in production increased. And the ramifications of that are being viewed at the Artemio Franchi this year.
Managers are now able to rely on his set-piece taking skills also. La Viola knows about it all too well today, having seen him score twice from penalties thus far.
His development as a player is coming to the fore, eventually. For a participant who came in for only $10 million, he’s done enough to warrant that price-tag. More than that, he’s done enough to prove as to why a few large clubs wanted him. As new boss Giuseppe Iachini takes over, he’s tasked with a vital duty of getting the most out of Pulgar. And in the long term, his failure or success in doing this could define his time in the club.