The breakthrough of Trevoh Chalobah in 2021 is a great case study for several reasons. It further demonstrated the excellent talent coming through Chelsea’s academy and showcased why the loan system, if used properly, can give young players enough experience to help them adapt to the demands of senior football.
Chalobah also proved that you cannot judge a player purely on where they have been on loan. In the 2020/21 season, the defender was with Lorient in Ligue 1, who managed to escape relegation. They were not pulling up trees, playing in Europe or possessing many names Chelsea fans would know, although Chalobah got over 2,000 minutes and 29 appearances in one of Europe’s top five leagues.
He came back mature and ready to make a quick impression. As soon as he did, the need for the club to sign Jules Kounde lessened and Thomas Tuchel had an internal solution to add to his options.
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The same dilemma applies this summer but this time in central midfield. Chelsea fans have been hoping to see fresh investment in this area for several years, and with both N’Golo Kante and Jorginho entering the final year of their contracts, the need for a revamp is clear.
However, with one of the club’s recent targets Aurelien Tchouameni all but signed as a Real Madrid player and the rumored fee to acquire Declan Rice going beyond £100m from West Ham, this may turn out to be another summer when little actually happens.
To some, this is quite baffling, and it is little surprise why given how clear the issues have been for some time. Be that form, a lack of a certain profile or injuries, the center of midfield was an area with consistent headaches across the 2021/22 campaign.
Should Rice, or any other target be out of reach this summer, looking at what Chelsea currently have will prove vital. As of now, Mateo Kovacic, Kante, Jorginho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are players who could be classfied as central midfielders, ones who regularly are deployed in the “double six” of Chelsea’s 3-4-2-1 formation.
But with the returning loanees, Tuchel could uncover some fresh options. Both Billy Gilmour and Ethan Ampadu are most obvious here. Yes, we know about Conor Gallagher but given his skill set and how he was used at Crystal Palace, Gallagher is an attacking midfielder – not a defensive one.
Both Gilmour and Ampadu have played in deeper positions for Chelsea before and were impressive. Ampadu has been on loan at Venezia for the past season and has been used in a variety of positions. Showing the incredible versatility Cobham graduates are known for, the 21-year-old has likely become a forgotten name amongst the returning young talent.
Having that flexibility could be highly beneficial to Tuchel, along with a player like Chalobah who has now gained two seasons of senior football. Ampadu has faced adversity and setbacks with two consecutive relegations, but that does not mean a loan can be classified as a failure.
On the other hand, Gilmour’s loan with Norwich was unsuccessful. A change in coach and system early on disrupted plans and being in a Norwich squad who never looked capable of avoiding relegation made it a pretty demoralizing watch.
However, Gilmour has impressed regularly for Chelsea amongst better players. His tenacity and technique are why many believe he has such a bright future and for a team who wants to control possession, Gilmour suits Tuchel’s style and has proven he can perform against the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.
Neither Ampadu nor Gilmour may offer the upgrade a target like Rice could but given the sheer amount of work needed to be done on the squad this window, a repeat of the Chalobah story would certainly feel like a massive boost for the Blues.