Chelsea FC manager Jos Mourinho is not best known for giving younger players an opportunity, but with his trusted servants letting him down so far this season, a window of opportunity has opened up for the Blues’ youngest members.
There were precious few positives to come out of the 2-1 Chelsea FC defeat to Crystal Palace on Sunday in Jos Mourinho’s 100th home game in charge of the Blues. Two big ones, however, were the cameos of teenagers Kenedy and Ruben Loftus-Cheek respectively.
The Brazil U20 and England U21 internationals are amongst three 19-year-olds in Mourinho’s first-team squad. With the Portuguese’s senior players letting him down, perhaps there is now a genuine opportunity for the youngsters to showcase their talents on the grandest of stages in world football – the English Premier League.
Cup competitions are also just around the corner, and Chelsea FC have been handed a very kind UEFA Champions League group – Porto, Dynamo Kiev and Maccabi Tel-Aviv – as well as what looks like a relatively straightforward Capital One Cup third round tie away against Walsall. In these competitions in particular, there is a very good chance that Mourinho will hand the three teenagers in his squad some meaningful game time.
Here is a look at what each of the youngsters offer, and the roles they could play in the coming season:
1. Ruben Loftus-Cheek
The England U21 international is currently the only outfield academy graduate other than John Terry who is officially a part of the Chelsea FC first-team squad. He is also probably the most familiar name amongst Premier League fans given his introduction to the big time last season, when Mourinho handed the 19-year-old his first league start against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.
The first thing one is likely to notice about Loftus-Cheek is his build. At 6ft 3in tall, the Englishman towers over most of his Blues team-mates, and although his football still lacks the authority that his imposing figure threatens, there is no doubting his talent.
Primarily a box-to-box midfielder, the 19-year-old is known for his ability to use his physicality to brush aside challenges during driving runs from midfield, as well as his technical ability to create and score goals. Although not prolific by any means, Loftus-Cheek does have the ability to find the back of the net, and if that aspect of his game is worked upon, the Englishman could contribute a decent number of goals from midfield.
The Stamford Bridge faithful saw glimpses of the ‘real’ Ruben Loftus-Cheek against Crystal Palace in the recently concluded round of Premier League fixtures, with the youngster picking up the ball deep in midfield and throwing off opposition players with simple, subtle shifts in his body weight as he advanced with the ball.
The Loftus-Cheek Mourinho played in 14/15 after the title was wrapped up was one given a more disciplined role, asked to sit deep and shield the Chelsea FC back four, and given express instructions to not venture into the attacking third too often. However, it is to be hoped that his natural attacking ability as well as his ability to drive forward with the ball is not discouraged by his manager in the coming years.
With the poor start to the season of Nemanja Mati and Cesc F bregas, the impressive cameo by Loftus-Cheek against Palace, as well as the fact that the cup competitions will return after the fortnight-long club football hiatus, the midfielder should see more playing time in the not-too-distant future.
His role will largely depend on who partners him in midfield, but the Blues faithful will see the best of their academy graduate only if he is given the freedom to advance into the final third and contribute to the Chelsea FC attack.
2. Bertrand Traor
The Burkina Faso international has yet to see a minute of game time for Chelsea FC in the 2015-2016 season, but like with the other fringe players, the resumption of domestic and European cup competitions for the season should increase his chances of getting minutes on the pitch and showcasing his ability to his manager and the fans.
The 19-year-old came into prominence for his exploits with Dutch feeder club Vitesse Arnhem, for whom he scored an impressive 14 goals in 2014-2015. Mourinho decided he had shown enough promise to draft him into the Blues’ first-team squad, but with competition for places high, it is difficult to see Traor too much game time.
It does the youngster no harm whatsoever that he is versatile and can play in a number of positions: any of the attacking roles in a 4-2-3-1 including as a striker, as also as a make-shift left wing-back, a position he occupied in a pre-season friendly for Chelsea FC against Fiorentina.
Traor ‘s strength is his ability to finish off chances calmly, as also his ability to curl in efforts into the top corner from long range with his wand of a left foot. Although not blessed with electric pace, the Burkinabe has the ability to make runs in behind defences – as he demonstrated at Vitesse last season – and indeed to stretch opposition defences by running channels and bring team-mates into play.
Although technically gifted, the former Vitesse loanee will have to develop physically to deal with Premier League defences. However, the teenager definitely has time on his side and will no doubt improve in that aspect at Chelsea FC.
It is difficult to guess when or in what role Traor will get his first official minutes for the club, but it could well be in a right-sided attacking midfield position given Mourinho’s propensity to use inverted wingers when possible to do so. It would also give the attacking midfielder the opportunity to cut in and shoot with his left foot, which is likely to pose a serious threat to the opposition.
The youngster could get his first minutes in the Champions League tie against Maccabi Tel-Aviv at Stamford Bridge, or indeed in the Capital One Cup third round tie against Walsall. The Blues’ poor start to the season as well as the signing of former Barcelona star Pedro means that an opportunity in the Premier League seems a distant possibility at the moment.
Few Chelsea FC fans (if any) had ever heard about the Brazilian until this summer, when the teenager completed his move from Fluminense for a reported fee of under A?7 million. The next the Blues saw of him was in an Instagram photo with compatriot Oscar in the Blues’ pre-season training camp in Montreal, Canada.
It was there that the 19-year-old evidently impressed Mourinho, particularly with his performance against treble winners Barcelona, where he was able to showcase enough of his talent for the Portuguese to want him as part of his first-team squad.
And that is where he now finds himself. It is a sign of his prodigious talent that Chelsea FC did not loan him out to feeder club Vitesse, and instead fought to get him a work permit so he could be a part of Mourinho’s first team for this season.
The Brazil U20 international has often been compared to Zenit St.Petersburg star Hulk, and it is not particularly difficult to see why. Kenedy is tall, quick, strong and has a venomous left-footed shot – attributes that were all on full display in his second-half cameo against Crystal Palace.
Mourinho later singled him out for praise and credited him for the improvement in the team, and it was indeed the teenager’s drive from deep in the defensive third that spurred Chelsea FC on as they searched for an equaliser in the final stages of the game.
The Brazilian is another that Mourinho might have earmarked for a possible role on the right of the Chelsea FC attacking midfield, particularly given Kenedy has shown he has the ability to work defensively and track back diligently to help out his full-back.
Like Traor , however, the teenager is versatile and could play in a number of roles for the Blues. It is quite unlikely that he will be asked to play left-back again in the near future, and will more likely be given a role in the attacking three behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1 when he next sees significant game time.
Hailed as the biggest positive from the Crystal Palace game, that might come sooner for him compared to his fellow youngsters, and a few minutes against Everton at Goodison Park in the first fixture after the international break would not be surprising.
Chelsea FC have three really promising young players on their books, all of whom have the ability to contribute to what promises to be a challenging season for the Blues. What remains to be seen now is whether Mourinho trusts them enough to give them significant game time and a chance to establish themselves as members of the first team.
Blues fans should certainly be excited about their teenage prospects, however, and even if they do not feature in the bigger games, kind draws in cup competitions have provided a perfect platform for the three to announce themselves to the footballing world.