The summer of 2019 remains one of the most important in Chelsea’s recent history. Eden Hazard departed for Real Madrid, a transfer ban was served, and Frank Lampard replaced Maurizio Sarri as the club’s head coach. It proved to be the perfect storm.
Without the ability to enter the transfer market, Lampard and his assistant Jody Morris placed their trust in the club’s academy graduates. Fikayo Tomori, Reece James, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham were given first-team roles. Billy Gilmour would later establish himself and Ian Maatsen, Marc Guehi, Tino Anjorin and Armando Broja were handed senior debuts.
Lampard’s commitment to Chelsea‘s own was rewarded with a top-four finish in the Premier League, an achievement few expected before the 2019/20 campaign began. There was also an FA Cup final appearance. It was hard proof players schooled at Cobham were good enough for the Blues’ first team if given the opportunity.
Of course, things went awry for Lampard in his second season. After a 17-match unbeaten run, performances dipped and results suffered. The club legend was sacked before January was out.
There was a genuine concern when Thomas Tuchel arrived that the good work done by Lampard and his coaching team with the academy graduates would quickly count for little. Fortunately, the German coach leaned on Mount and James and both started in the Champions League final win over Man City.
An academy exodus did take place in the summer, though. Tomori and Abraham moved on permanently. Gilmour and Anjorin left on loan. There were further departures from the Development Squad, most notably with Tino Livramento joining Southampton.
Yet there was a homegrown success story. Trevoh Chalobah, who had spent the previous three seasons out on loan at Ipswich Town, Huddersfield Town and Lorient, was handed an opportunity to impress in pre-season with the majority of the first-team squad away representing their countries.
The 22-year-old grasped his chance and is now a firm fixture in the first-team squad. Importantly, he signed a new five-year deal at the start of the month.
Chalobah, like those before him under Lampard, has showcased the talent Chelsea have within their youth ranks and the loan army. What they need is an opportunity, a chance to prove themselves.
Tuchel now has first-hand experience of that. So come next summer, he should consider shunning the transfer market in order to refresh his squad. And here are three homegrown stars he should place his trust in.
The centre-back doesn’t celebrate his 19th birthday until February but has proved himself one of the most composed and competent defenders in the Championship during his first three months at Huddersfield Town.
There is very little that Colwill doesn’t do well. Standing 6’2, he can hold his own against the second tier’s most physically dominant forwards and is also surprisingly swift across the ground. His ability to read the game is also well-honed for someone so young and it’s worth noting Huddersfield have conceded only 13 goals in his 13 appearances.
What really makes Colwill stand out, however, is his distribution. The academy graduate, who is left-footed, is excellent at progressing the ball – he is able to identify passing angles few experienced centre-backs spot and is confident stepping out of the backline.
“He’s a very young player with a lot of things he is doing fantastically, and other things he needs to continue improving,” said Terriers head coach Carlos Corberan last month.
“If he’s in my team it’s because I think he has the skills to help the team in that position,” he said. “I think he’s going to be one of the most important centre-backs for this country in the future.
“I am seeing a player with a lot of potential and a lot of personality. Football is like life, everything can change so I cannot talk about the future, I can only talk about the past. I always think he’s developed many of the skills to play a high level of football since he started training with us.
“The demands are always greater when you step up a level but I am seeing him develop in a very good way. Some of the things I saw from him before he started working with us. I am watching a player with a fast-growing development.
“Colwill is adapting well to senior football and I feel in another year he will have grown even more than he has done right now.”
As things stand, Chelsea have a problem to solve next summer at centre-back with the futures of Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger very much uncertain. Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva are also out of contract.
Colwill’s rapid development in the Championship is reminiscent of that of James, who starred for Wigan Athletic during the 2018/19 season. James was, of course, given his head at Chelsea by Lampard and Tuchel should consider doing the same with Colwill.
The first-team incorporation of Gallagher next summer feels like something of a no-brainer. Not only is he starring out on loan this season for Crystal Palace but he impressed Tuchel throughout pre-season and there was genuine consideration as to whether the all-action midfielder should remain at Chelsea this term.
“He is standing out every single matchday,” Tuchel said last week.”We had long conversations in pre-season and we imagined he could stay and fight for his place here.
“But we decided that when the talks came up with Patrick Vieria at Crystal Palace, he understood the role he could have in the Premier League at the club. He wanted to take the challenge.
“We also agreed to let him go because we thought, in the end, this could be the right thing to do. You need a bit of luck and, of course, a lot of quality. Conor’s heart is so, so big; you could wake up him at 4am and he’ll start running and sprinting, collecting balls and winning duels.
“This is what he does. He feels good and has the trust of the club and manager. Right now, it’s the beginning of November and he is an important member of the Crystal Palace squad. It’s good where he is and there is no need to change this. He feels good and feels a huge part at this club.”
In his 10 Premier League appearances for Palace this season, Gallagher has struck four goals and claimed two assists. He has become the hub of Patrick Vieira’s side and was the driving force behind a shock 2-0 win for Palace at Manchester City in the Premier League.
If the 22-year-old is able to maintain his level of performance throughout the season, he will force his way into Tuchel’s plans for the 2021/22 campaign, especially as Saul Niguez’s loan from Atletico Madrid is highly unlikely to be made permanent.
Much like Gallagher, Broja impressed Tuchel in pre-season. The 20-year-old striker struck against Peterborough, netted in the intra-squad friendly in Ireland, and got on the scoresheet against Bournemouth.
But with the plethora of attacking options available to Tuchel and the signing of Romelu Lukaku, it was decided by Chelsea that Broja’s development would be aided from leaving on loan once more.
Having scored 11 goals for Vitesse Arnhem last season, Broja wasn’t short of options. It was eventually decided that he should spend the campaign at Southampton.
It took a few weeks for Broja to find his feet on the south coast and Ralph Hasenhuttl spoke publically about the academy graduate needing to do more in training.
Yet when handed a Premier League start, Broja found the net. He repeated the trick a week later and only an ankle knock halted his momentum. “He has good speed, good finish,” Hasenhuttl said last month. “He has everything that a good striker needs.”
It’s become clear this season that Chelsea lack a genuine replacement for Lukaku. Broja could be that, although he will have to pick up after the international break where he left off if he is to prove that.