Chelsea Loanees: 5 Players Who Could Break into the First Team Next Season
Chelsea, as a club, ought to be lauded as one of the most effective users of the loan system in recent times.
There are some real success stories in there. In 2011, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, aged 19 at the time, was signed from Genk for a fee in the region of €9 million. Having spent the last three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid, he has finally supplanted Petr Cech as Chelsea's first choice in goal.
During his time at Atletico, Courtois won silverware aplenty, and his performances for Los Rojiblancos led many to herald him as one of the best in the business, including Cech himself. His worth is now well over the initial cash outlay on him.
The likes of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne, by contrast, never quite got their big break at Chelsea. Even so, the aforementioned duo did well enough on loan spells away from Stamford Bridge for them to be sold on for handsome profits. In the day and age of UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations, this kind of usage of the loan system is shrewd.
Even so, the central idea behind looking for temporary homes for the youth of a big club should be to ensure their growth to the extent that they can make the step up to the first team.
Upon the conclusion of the recent summer transfer window, the Blues' total of on-loan players had reached a whopping 26.
On one hand, this figure includes the likes of Fernando Torres, Victor Moses, Ryan Bertrand and Marko Marin; players who likely don't have a future at Chelsea, but ones who the club couldn't offload permanently. On the other, there are talented young players who, for the sake of their own development, had to be farmed out on a temporary basis to hone their craft.
Here we look at five players who are away from SW6 right now, but who could just be called upon to be a full-time part of the Chelsea first team next season.
Glancing over the list of players who haven't made the cut for the following list, there are several notable names. Their absence from this space should not be construed as a suggestion that they'll never hack it at Chelsea.
Nathaniel Chalobah (Burnley) and Oriol Romeu (VfB Stuttgart) are two players who could easily make the squad next time around. Romeu, a player of the ilk of John Obi Mikel, already looks set to be a mainstay in Stuttgart's starting line-up. This spell playing week in week out in Germany is bound to help him prove he's worthy. He recently signed a three-year contract extension with Chelsea, suggesting that he's got Blues manager Jose Mourinho's stamp of approval.
Englishman Chalobah, meanwhile, is set for his first stint in the Premier League, albeit with a promoted side. He can play in defense or in central midfield, and I expect him to feature prominently for a Burnley side that didn't add much star power over the summer.
Once considered the brightest prospect to have come through the Chelsea academy in years, Josh McEachran's progress has stalled to the extent that his loan to Vitesse Arnhem is being seen as something of a last-chance saloon. To stake a claim for inclusion in next season's squad, Josh will have to excel in the playmaker role at Vitesse.
Kenneth Omeruo was farmed out to Middlesbrough yet again. A loan to a Premier League club, however, would've been of considerably greater benefit to the 20-year-old.
Instead, a player who was one of Nigeria’s standout performers at the World Cup continues to ply his trade in the Championship, and that is just sad. It is difficult to ascertain whether Omeruo has a shot at making the first team next season.
Meanwhile, the likes of John Swift, Islam Feruz and Patrick Bamford arguably merited more aggressive loans than the ones they ended up with.
Mario Pasalic has had to contend with a not-so-spectacular start to his stint with Spanish Primera Liga club Elche. Moreover, the competition for places in midfield at Chelsea is as intense as can be. Thus, the Croat has quite a task if he is to get a look in anytime soon.
Marco van Ginkel: AC Milan
I suspect Marco van Ginkel is almost certain to be a part of the Chelsea first team for 2015-16. Coming off a lengthy lay-off, though, it is necessary for him to get some solid game time under his belt this term. That was, after all, what prompted him to seal a season-long loan switch to AC Milan.
As per ACMilan.com (h/t The Guardian), he said:
I want to have more playing time and this is my aim this season. I believe at Milan I will have the opportunity to play more games in what is a big competition, with many strong teams.
The current Milan side is arguably the weakest it's been in a very long time. The previous campaign yielded just 57 points and an eighth-place finish in Serie A—very poor for a club of their stature.
Though he will be competing with the likes of Andrea Poli, Riccardo Montolivo, and Nigel de Jong, one can reasonably expect the Dutchman to start plenty of games for the Italian giants.
Van Ginkel is naturally a box-to-box central midfielder. However, if certain pre-season performances are anything to go by, he's happy to sit deep and play a more disciplined role when needed. He can help the team play out from the back.
Meanwhile, should anyone need reminding, Van Ginkel also has the capacity to play higher up the pitch. He knows his way to goal and can pick a pass, as evidenced by the above video.
Should he establish himself at the San Siro and demonstrate the form that saw him named the Dutch Talent of the Year for 2012-13, a lot is possible. The likes of Ramires and John Obi Mikel might just find their spots at Chelsea under serious threat upon his return.
Thorgan Hazard: Borussia Monchengladbach
I am of the belief that Eden Hazard’s younger brother has as good a shot as any other Chelsea loanee of making Chelsea’s 25-man Premier League and UEFA Champions League squads for next term.
Mohamed Salah was particularly wasteful in pre-season, and he hasn't come anywhere near making inroads into Chelsea's starting XI so far in 2014-15. A good season for Thorgan could see him jump ahead of the Egyptian in the pecking order.
A nimble-footed playmaker with a powerful shot, Thorgan truly blossomed over the two years he spent on loan at Zulte Waregem. He was named the best player in Belgium for 2013, scoring 14 goals and a registering a hatful of assists in the Jupiler Pro League.
Thorgan has been receiving plenty of game time off the bench for Gladbach. A recent quickfire double in Europa League qualifying included a sumptuous 35-yard free-kick. Should he continue to deliver in the next few weeks, it would really set the tone for the rest of the season.
If he's able to attain and then cement a starting role for the German outfit, we could be looking at a season that brings about further accelerated growth for the youngster.
Lest we forget, Borussia Monchengladbach were the club where Germany international Marco Reus first announced himself as a world-beater. It might just happen again.
Christian Atsu: Everton
Given that Chelsea are presently well stocked in the attacking-midfield positions, Atsu was unlikely to get a look in this term. Another brief spell away seemed the logical step.
A number of clubs were interested in acquiring the services of the Ghanaian. There was a point when the Daily Star reported that Atsu had as many as 15 suitors.
Securing a loan to a Premier League club, one as good as Everton, means that the 22-year-old stands to gain a lot in the next 12 months. It is already clear that he's ready for a challenge greater than the one the Eredivisie presents. One can expect him to develop even more rapidly under the tutelage of Roberto Martinez.
He will likely return to west London an even better player than the one who was voted Vitesse Player of the Year and dazzled for his country at the World Cup. And he might just have a role to play at his parent club upon his homecoming.
Going strictly by skillset, he does offer something different. Among all players currently on Chelsea's books, I can't think of many better dribblers than Atsu. He has raw pace and knows how to operate in the role of an out-and-out wide man. Needless to say, he'd be quite an asset on the counter-attack.
For now, though, he must compete with the likes of Aiden McGeady, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith for game time. Given that the trio of aforementioned players have all started well and opened their accounts for the current Premier League season, outperforming them is going to be some feat.
Much like Thorgan Hazard, Christian Atsu's main challenge will be to prove himself to be a superior option to Mo Salah.
Lucas Piazon: Eintracht Frankfurt
Usually deployed as a second striker, Lucas Piazon was the standout player during the first half of last season’s Eredivisie.
His predatory instincts made the young Brazilian a real threat in the opposition's box. He netted on 11 occasions for Vitesse in that short space of time. Yet, Piazon showed us that there is more to his game than just his proficiency in front of goal.
He also set up eight goals over that period, and in general, he likes to move the ball quickly. In his own words, as per The Telegraph:
I’d say my playing style is different from typical Brazilian forwards. When you think about these, you think about dribbles and flashy moves. My football is simpler and more direct. It’s more like a midfielder playing up front.
I like to pass quickly. I don’t hog the ball and I don’t tend to run with it.
Though he barely featured for Vitesse in the latter stages of the season, it became apparent that he was ready for a grander stage.
A loan move to the Bundesliga makes good sense. Frankfurt are a solid outfit that will be striving to return to European competition sooner rather than later. Needless to say, the league itself is fiercely competitive. Its physical nature will go a long way toward preparing Lucas for first-team football in the English top flight.
If the goals and assists flow the way they did during Piazon's first six months donning the colors of Vitesse, he might just get his big break earlier than anticipated.
Tomas Kalas: FC Koln
Tomas Kalas spent a good chunk of last season on the treatment table at Chelsea, and he accrued just four appearances over the course of the campaign.
It is unusual for a centre-back to possess the kind of pace Kalas does, making him a rare footballing specimen. He's also fairly adept when it comes to using the ball.
Given his outstanding positional sense and willingness to throw himself at everything, he could just be the natural successor to John Terry in the heart of Chelsea's defence. Meanwhile, the versatile Kalas is also comfortable as a right-back, and he would give Chelsea another alternative for the position.
On the back of a season in which he didn't play much, he has been loaned out to German side FC Koln.
With two rounds of the Bundesliga down, he has yet to feature for the recently promoted club. The key question is, will he be able to dislodge one of Cologne's current first-choice defenders? Should he nail down a starting berth, this move will greatly behoove both the player and his parent club in the long run.
At present, Kurt Zouma is at Chelsea to provide cover at centre-back. However, some of his flaws have come to light in pre-season. One of his biggest issues is his tendency to misjudge the flight of aerial balls. Hence, I expect Kalas to be back at Chelsea sooner rather than later, with Zouma being loaned out at the start of the next term.