Back in February 2019, Chelsea were hit with a two-window transfer embargo. What might seem a crippling setback for most clubs chasing glory both at home and on the continent has not been the case for Chelsea.
In many ways, it has been a blessing in disguise. Whenever the coming Summer transfer window rolls around, the ban will be lifted and Chelsea can make moves in the market once again. But, the time without incoming transfers has seen several young prospects get given opportunities when often they would be limited to Carabao Cup matches and glimpses of action off the bench.
Eight academy players have made their debut this season, a record for The Pensioners. Credit must be given to Frank Lampard, who has repeatedly put his youngsters in ahead of more senior players; a situation that likely would not have happened under Sarri, embargo or no embargo.
We took a look through the Chelsea prospects that Lampard has given game time to this season and picked out our Top five. Some players who definitely do have a future at Chelsea have missed out, such is the number of top young players coming through the ranks in the last 12 months or so.
Number 5 – Billy Gilmour
If this were being written in 12 months’ time, there is every chance that Billy Gilmour could be top of this list. As it stands, the 18-year-old has only played a handful of games for Chelsea, including a full 90 minutes in the last two – against Liverpool and Everton. In those games, he has looked composed and confident, no matter what role he’s been asked to take up.
The Rangers academy prospect came to the fore with a brilliant display against Champions-elect Liverpool in the FA Cup at the start of March, including “doing Fabinho dirty” in a clip that has been doing the rounds on Social Media ever since.
If you need us, we’ll be watching this on repeat for the rest of the night…
— Goal (@goal) March 3, 2020
Gilmour can pick the ball up in deep areas and find passes to kick start moves. On his Premier League debut against Everton a few days later, he began two moves that led to goals during a game in which he completed 74 of his 80 attempted passes, more than any other player that day.
In the same game, no Everton player managed to dribble past the young Scot – a stat that Jorginho has only managed twice this season, both against Newcastle.
Looking solid at the back of the midfield and with an eye for a pass, his introduction to the first team will no doubt pay dividends for the other young players coming through like Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount.
Billy Gilmour has a ton of promise and both Chelsea and Scotland fans are excited to see just how far he can go. He may have been dubbed “the little boy” affectionately by Olivier Giroud, but once he steps on the pitch, Gilmour has shown that he is capable of playing with the big boys.
Number 4 – Fikayo Tomori
Frank Lampard said earlier this season of Fikayo Tomori, regarding where he would rank him in terms of his central defensive options: “A lot of people would have seen him as number 4, he’s now number 1 or 2.”
Indeed, if we were basing our rankings on the first half of the season, Tomori may well have been number 1 in this list. Arguably, Chelsea’s best run of form came when Tomori partnered Kurt Zouma at the centre of Chelsea’s defence, including their 1-0 win over Ajax in Amsterdam and a 5-2 win over Wolves, where he got his first senior goal for the club.
Of Chelsea’s 4 main centre back options, he has kept the most clean sheets, with 4 to his name. In fact, the young Englishman played 90 minutes in all 4 of their clean sheets this season until the turn of the year.
"I remember FIFA cards when I was about 37 and my pace was 35 – so I was slower than my age." 😂
Frank Lampard doesn't feel too sorry for Fikayo Tomori pic.twitter.com/x8xEJIL0eK
— Chelsea FC News (@Chelsea_FL) November 1, 2019
He also got his first England call-up and was used as a sub in the 4-0 win over Kosovo, to earn his first England cap at 21 years of age.
However, a handful of mistakes and a minor injury led to him dropping out of the first team. One particular mistake, a missed header which allowed Calum Chambers to assist an Aubameyang goal saw Tomori hauled off and he has not completed 90 minutes in the Premier League since.
That should not detract from the quality of player Chelsea have at their disposal, however. Like most of this list, he impressed on loan in the Championship last year, being the first loanee in Derby’s history to win player of the year.
In his most recent 90 minutes for the club, he put in a man of the match performance in the FA Cup against Hull and marked the game with a goal. Being left out of the team once in a while isn’t the end of the world – in his own words “I have to respect his decision and try and work hard on the training pitch so when my chance comes, I can hopefully take it.”
Tomori clearly has a level head on his shoulders, proven by the fact he is working on a business degree alongside playing for Chelsea. That mentality, alongside his talent, will see him go far.
Number 3 – Tammy Abraham
Number 3 in this list is the player that needs the least introduction. So far this season, Tammy Abraham has 16 goals for club and country, including 13 in the Premier League. That is more than double what any other Chelsea player has scored and puts him 8th in the overall Premier League rankings. Stats that many didn’t believe him capable of producing at the top level.
With Higuain, the man who led the line for Chelsea last season, now gone to Juventus, many would have expected the experienced Olivier Giroud to be his replacement, with no new names available to come in for another 12 months. But the nod was given to Abraham instead.
Fresh off a Championship campaign that saw him score 26 goals last season, including both home and away against Frank Lampard’s Derby side, Tammy has more than repaid the faith shown in him by his manager.
Tall, quick and a lethal finisher, Abraham has all the traits needed to be a top Premier League striker and he has proven this year that he has both the ability and mentality to do it at the very highest level. He marked his first meaningful England appearance with a goal and is widely expected to be involved in England’s Euro 2021 squad – currently a 1/2 shot.
No Kane, no problem? 👀
Frank Lampard says Tammy Abraham can step up and replace Harry Kane for England if the Chelsea striker is needed. 🏴
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) January 10, 2020
The only sticking point for now is if Chelsea can tie him down to a long-term contract, as they have with so many of their other young prospects of late – a sign that Frank Lampard is building from the bottom up.
Chelsea fans will have been happy to hear Lampard say that Tammy “puts on videos of Didier and Diego at night. He wants to be the best. He can look at those two and they will be great examples to follow.” If he can come close to being the player that either of those were in Chelsea blue, he’ll be a favourite of Stamford Bridge for years to come.
Number 2 – Mason Mount
If 12 months ago, someone told you the only player to play every Premier League game for Chelsea would be a player yet to make his Premier League debut for them, it would seem a stretch. But that is exactly what Mason Mount has achieved this season – and rightfully so.
Across all competitions, Mount has only missed Chelsea’s EFL Cup win against Grimsby – an unused sub in a 7-1 win. An early favourite of Fantasy Premier League managers, the 21-year-old came flying out of the blocks, with 3 goals in his first 5 Premier League games. Not a bad introduction.
Mount impressed on loan in the Championship last season – once again at Derby, under Lampard. Their worst run of form came whilst he was out injured for 10 games – a stretch in which they only won 2. Of the games where he played a full 90 minutes upon his return, they lost just two – against Leeds and, of course, in the playoff final to Aston Villa.
He was a stand out performer for the Rams and it looked as if he would bring that form straight with him to the Premier League for Chelsea this season.
Whilst he hasn’t quite managed to keep up his early level of goal involvements, his 4 assists this season put him behind only Willian, and his 6 goals are the 2nd most of any Chelsea player – behind, of course, number 3 in this list – Tammy Abraham.
Chelsea fans will hope that this enforced break will let him get over the knocks that have been niggling at him for months and that a well-deserved rest could see some top performances once again, when the season resumes.
Despite the negative reaction he has received from some fans on social media, the numbers don’t lie. Whilst his recent form has not been stellar, if Mount can produce the quality we have seen that he is capable of on a consistent basis, he will surely be a star for Chelsea.
Number 1 – Reece James
Finally, number 1. Reece James came to prominence last season – not at Chelsea, but on loan at Wigan in the Championship. The then 18-year-old was brought in as cover for Nathan Byrne, winner of the player of the year award in their League One title win the season before. But an injury saw James start the season against Sheffield Wednesday. And he never looked back.
The young Englishman played more than anyone else for Wigan last season and cleared up at the end of season awards, with a staggering 96% of votes in the fans’ player of the year award coming for him. The fans, manager, players and coaching staff could not speak highly enough of James and he was even handed the captain’s armband in Wigan’s final game of the season, and taken off in the 91st minute to allow the Wigan fans the chance to thank him with a standing ovation for his contributions.
Injury hampered his return to Chelsea at the start of this season, but once again, when he got his chance, he took it with both hands. His first start came against Grimsby in the EFL Cup, where he got himself 2 assists before capping off his night with an 82nd-minute goal, a bending shot from outside the area.
Since then, James has missed just 4 games where he was available for selection, showing himself to be more than capable wherever Lampard chooses to play him. Unlike Gilmour, James does have the build of a player ready for the man’s game, and along with it has shown strength in defence, the ability to get forward, get crosses into the box and score goals as well.
While he is yet to notch in the Premier League for Chelsea, he did win Wigan’s goal of the season for a stunning strike against Bristol City last season. In the words of Paul Cook, his manager at Wigan: “If Reece keeps on the path of listening to the people around him, then I’m sure he’ll have a career in the Premier League for a long time to come.”