Kenedy and Bertrand Traore Show Guus Hiddink's Youth Focus Is Working at Chelsea

Garry HayesFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2016

Chelsea's Brazilian striker Kenedy (L) celebrates scoring the opening goal in the first minute of the English Premier League football match between Norwich City and Chelsea at Carrow Road in Norwich, eastern England, on March 1, 2016.

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CARROW ROAD, Norwich—It was during his first press conference back as Chelsea interim manager that Guus Hiddink made a promise.

Bleacher Report asked him if he would look to field more of Chelsea's talented youngsters this season in order to help blood the next generation at Stamford Bridge.

"It's a little bit too early to say now that tomorrow I will bring in a youngster of 17, 18 or 19 years old," Hiddink replied. "But in general, if they show they are competitive, then I am not against giving them opportunities."

A little over two months on and the Dutchman is doing just that.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek has played more minutes for the Chelsea first team than at any other stage of his fledgling career. Only in January did the 20-year-old complete 90 minutes for the first time, too, in the FA Cup fourth round against MK Dons.

Bertrand Traore is another who has risen to prominence under Hiddink, scoring three goals in his last four matches.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Kenedy of Chelsea runs with the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Chelsea at Carrow Road on March 1, 2016 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
Stephen Pond/Getty Images

Traore, 20, made his first Chelsea start against Norwich City on Tuesday. He was also joined by Brazilian midfielder Kenedy, also 20, who played out of position at left-back as Chelsea's makeshift defence of recent weeks adopted another new look.

It was a risk from Hiddink as he attempted to rotate his squad to give some key players rest ahead of a busy schedule that is fast approaching. After Stoke City this weekend, the Blues face Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and Everton in the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Both games will determine just how successful Chelsea's season is going to be, so Hiddink utilising his squad is vital. Using those youngsters still has an element of danger about it, though, as Chelsea don't want to lose the momentum they have built going into those games.

It may have been a risk for Hiddink to start Traore and Kenedy on Tuesday, but it paid off. Not only did Chelsea win 2-1, the pair impacted the game's key moments to secure all three points. That's three games on the bounce Chelsea have won in the league now—their best run of form all season.

Kenedy scored after just 39 seconds to give Chelsea a 1-0 lead. At the end of the first half, Traore assisted Diego Costa for what proved to be the winning goal.

"They are knocking on the door," Hiddink said after the game. "They work seriously in training and then you have to play them, especially when there is a tight schedule.

Chelsea's Burkina Faso midfielder Bertrand Traore (C) celebrates scoring their fifth goal during the English FA Cup fifth round football match between Chelsea and Manchester City at Stamford Bridge in London on February 21, 2016. Chelsea won the game 5-1.
AFP/Getty Images

"They need the experience of playing from the start in intense Premier League games which is why I don’t hesitate to bring them in."

Three points away from home that leave Chelsea now sitting eighth in the table is the big news. Behind it, however, this gradual integration taking place at Stamford Bridge is what should be getting fans excited.

Unless Hiddink's Chelsea pull off a miracle by reaching the top four and with it, next season's Champions League, then league positions matter little. So when a team finds itself in that predicament, the only thing to do is look forward by making the adjustments to leave Chelsea better off for next term.

If Hiddink continues like this, then he will. Whoever Chelsea appoint as manager in the summer will be presented with a talented group that blends youth and experience. Those younger players won't be looking as raw if they continue to get the minutes they need to develop.

Chelsea's up-and-coming players aren't just featuring in matches, they are making a contribution. As far back as early January, Loftus-Cheek settled nerves when he came off the bench to score against Scunthorpe United in the FA Cup. He also picked up an assist for Oscar against MK Dons in the next round.

Kenedy and Traore made their mistakes at Carrow Road. Indeed, there was one moment in the first half when the latter was set free on the halfway line by Eden Hazard, with no Norwich defenders between him and the goal. A heavy touch as he raced through eventually made it easy for goalkeeper John Ruddy to snuff out the threat.

"He stumbled a couple of times when he normally could have scored but that is a good experience for him," Hiddink commented.

NORWICH, ENGLAND - MARCH 01:  Guus Hiddink (L) interim manager of Chelsea is seen prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Chelsea at Carrow Road on March 1, 2016 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
Stephen Pond/Getty Images

The manager is right, Traore will learn from those mistakes. But this team is also learning with him, and the others who are knocking on the door.

There is a trust building that will serve Chelsea well as the club looks to continue this prolonged transition to integrate a youth culture from within.

That's the important thing here. As a club, the Blues haven't always trusted their own and under owner Roman Abramovich, have spent lavishly to sign stars produced elsewhere to give them success.

What we're seeing now is the early signs of that culture changing. Gradually, these youngsters are establishing themselves and Chelsea are benefiting with points and victories at the same time.

Outside of Kenedy, Traore and Loftus-Cheek, Chelsea have plenty more youth talent chomping at the bit. Izzy Brown, Dominic Solanke and Lewis Baker are all on loan at Vitesse Arnhem and the club has big hopes for all of them. Chelsea's under-18s continue to be dominant in the FA Youth Cup, too.

It all points to the club going in the right direction, and Hiddink is spearheading that from the very top.

 

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes