With the 2017/18 Premier League season nearly upon us, The Hard Tackle takes a look at three Chelsea academy players who could be given their break in the upcoming campaign
Antonio Conte’s arrival last year came with renewed hope, that besides taking Chelsea back to the summit of English football, he would also take a look at the supremely talented youngsters at Cobham and give them opportunities to to stake a claim for the first team.
While he did manage to do the former, it was the same old story with regard to their youth. Like the season before, a vast number of players were drafted into their now infamous ‘loan army’ and many have since returned and once again been shipped out on a temporary basis.
Given the sheer quality in their first team squad at any given time, the riches at their disposal and the need to constantly compete for top honours, managers are forced to rely on the best players at their disposal and as a result, cultivating players for the future takes a backseat.
Not since legendary former Captain John Terry, have Chelsea been successfully able to incorporate a player from the academy into the the first team setup. Could this season possibly see the emergence of an academy star for the first time in 19 years? TheHardTackle takes a look at three of the most promising youngsters, who could be given a shot at the first team by Antonio Conte.
Charles Musonda Jr, was signed from Anderlecht along with his 2 brothers Lamisha and Tika in the summer of 2012 and over the course of the next four seasons, became an integral part of the Chelsea youth sides that won 2 FA Youth Cups, a UEFA Youth League and an U21 Premier League.
In January 2016 he was shipped off to Betis on loan and after an extremely successful outing, that deal was extended till the end of the 2016/17 season. However, after only 8 appearances in an injury hit campaign, he returned to Chelsea after 6 months and remained there till the end of the season.
However, the 6 months he spent training with the first team seems to have done enough for Antonio Conte to want retain him in the squad and he was handed the number 17 shirt, previously worn by Eden Hazard and Pedro, thereby ending all speculation of a summer departure.
He is certainly capable of providing cover and competition to the likes of Hazard, Pedro and Willian and with 47 mandatory games to be played this season and only 3 other wingers in the squad, he will surely be afforded minutes to try and stake claim to a spot in the first team.
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Primarily a central attacking midfielder, Boga, who came through Chelsea’s youth setup after joining in 2009 as an U12, is comfortable playing on the wings as well and has spent the previous two seasons on loan at Rennes in the Ligue 1 and then with Granada in the La Liga.
He rapidly outgrew the youth setup after playing regularly above his age group, but then found it difficult to make any kind of significant impact during either of his loan spells, making 58 appearances across 2 seasons, netting 5 goals and providing 2 assists in all competitions.
However, he is still highly regarded at Stamford Bridge and the Ivory Coast international is expected to make a push for the first team in the near future. After what can safely be described as an impressive pre-season, this may be the year in which Boga finally gets a crack at the first team.
While he has stated that he needs to grow ‘technically’, he has worked on his pace and the physical aspect of his game over the past 2 seasons. He wouldn’t take too long to get used to the English game and he could provide able cover in midfield, given the Blues’ lack of depth in that area.
That, combined with their need for homegrown personnel in the squad and injuries to Hazard and Pedro might work in Boga’s favour. Now it remains to be seen whether he has done enough in training and these few games to convince Conte to keep him at Cobham, at least till January.
One of the brightest young talents coming through the Chelsea youth system, the extremely versatile youngster spent last season as a part of the development squad and showcased his versatility by playing in four different positions – fullback, wingback, central midfield and also as a winger.
He is the most decorated Chelsea youngster on this list, with 2 FA Youth Cups, 2 UEFA Youth Leagues and last season’s U18 Premier League title to his name and he was also a part of England’s triumphant European U19 Championship side, playing every minute of each game.
A gifted athlete, the London born Sterling is blessed with strength and is extremely fast, good with the ball at his feet, can put in a mean cross and had an eye for a finish. All superb qualities to have as a player who is predominantly a defender and he could be good option for Conte at wingback.
The blues only have Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso in that role and the Blues are desperate to acquire a player who could provide cover and ease the burden on both. The market has proven to be difficult so far and Chelsea are yet to secure any signings for that position. Should one or two more signings in that position prove elusive till the end of the season, Conte will have little choice than to give Sterling a look in.
Wildcard: Trevoh Chalobah
The younger brother of Nathaniel Chalobah, who signed for Watford earlier this summer, Trevor is the next big defensive talent coming through the ranks of the Blues’ youth system and has been a part of 2 FA Youth Cup winning sides and the side that won the UEFA Youth League in 2016.
Capable at playing at fullback and in midfield, Trevoh has been capped at the U16, U17 and U19 Youth Levels for England and was a part of the side that won the European U19 Championship recently, but missed out on the semi-final and finals due to injury.
Very tall, strong and fast for his size, he has a commanding aerial presence and good eye for a pass, the Sierra Leone-born youngster is a regular for the Chelsea U23s and has experience playing as a part of a back 3, which would no doubt help his case with Conte.
The Blues are well stocked in the centerback department, with Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger being added to the squad this year. However, with Jake Clarke-Salter expected to go out on loan and should injury or suspension keep out anyone else, Chalobah might just get an opportunity to showcase his talent for the first team in what promises to be a long season.
Wildcard: Cristian Cuevas
— AS Chile (@ASChile) July 26, 2017
Cuevas isn’t a product of Chelsea’ youth academy, but that of Chilean club O’Higgins, with whom he would make his professional debut in 2011 as a 16-year-old. He was signed by the Blues in July 2013, following a successful trial held with the club in November, after impressing with Chile’s U20 team.
Since signing for Chelsea, he has been sent out on loan to Vitesse, FC Eindhoven, Universidad de Chile and the past two seasons at Belgian side Sint-Truidense VV, where he established himself as the first choice left-back early on and made 50 appearances, scoring one and assisting 4 goals.
Kenedy’s banishment midway from Chelsea’s pre-season tour led to Cuevas being called up to the squad, as Conte searches amongst available personnel for a player who can provide adequate cover and competition for Marcos Alonso at left wingback.
With their pursuit of Juventus’ Alex Sandro seemingly getting them nowhere and Kenedy edging closer to a loan move, Cuevas might have to be retained into the first team for the following season if the Blues fail to purchase another wingback by the end of the transfer window.