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Why Chelsea's Rising Star Ike Ugbo Deserves More Plaudits for His Achievements

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistNovember 18, 2016

LEIGH, GREATER MANCHESTER - AUGUST 28: Ike Ugbo of Chelsea  during the Premier League 2 fixture between Manchester United and Chelsea at Leigh Sports Village on August 28, 2016 in Leigh, Greater Manchester. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Posture can tell us everything about a sportsman. For Chelsea's up-and-coming striker Ike Ugbo, it's what gives the game away.

Before watching him in action, the naked eye can spot his talent. Ugbo may have only turned 18 in late September, but everything about him screams "elite athlete."

He is bulky up top, with broad shoulders that outline his ability to impose himself on defenders. The definition on his arms and thighs hint at explosive pace to get beyond opponents. He looks agile and strong.

Ugbo's frame is that of a footballer for modern times, and the way he struts on to the pitch is an indication that he knows it. The striker oozes confidence.

We need not fall into the trappings of judging a book by its cover, either; the frontman backs up those first impressions with performances on the pitch. We've seen that much in the youth team—Ugbo scored 26 goals in 33 appearances last season—and this term, it's carried over into the senior game as Chelsea's development squad competes in the Checkatrade Trophy.

We're not talking about him enough, though. It's to Ugbo's detriment that he is emerging at a time when Chelsea have arguably two of the best up-and-coming strikers in the English game in Dominic Solanke and Tammy Abraham.

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The headlines have been theirs this past year or so and have pushed Ugbo's achievements under the radar. For any doubters of his ability, it's those much-maligned EFL Trophy matches this term that outline his capabilities; Ugbo's form since August demands we sit up and take notice.

Were we to judge it merely on results, Chelsea's involvement in the revamped EFL Trophy has been a failure. The Blues didn't win any of their three group games and finished bottom of Southern Group C after beating Oxford United on penalties, having drawn 1-1 at Stamford Bridge last week.

Matches against Swindon Town and Exeter City ended in defeats despite an attempt at a late comeback in each game. Aidy Viveash's youngsters went down 2-1 at Swindon's County Ground, losing 3-2 at St James Park against Exeter.

Just as Chelsea grew into those games late on, so Ugbo matured into the competition. It was in his second outing against Exeter that he stood out, scoring twice to come close to pulling off an unlikely comeback from 3-0 down.

His first in that game was sublime; it smacked of a talented striker. From the edge of the box, having bundled his way into space, Ugbo drilled his effort beyond the goalkeeper to give his team faint hope. It was a goal about power, and that it came against senior professionals is what impressed most.

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That's the criticism we give young players: No matter how much they impress in development football, the question is always about how they can cope against men. Technical ability will only get them so far; they need to have the mettle to deal with the physical aspects of performing.

It's for that reason Abraham has been such a success at Bristol City this year. He hasn't been bullied by Championship defenders, because he hasn't allowed himself to be. When they've tried, he's shrugged it off and has remained unfazed.

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At 3-0 down, heads could have dropped against Exeter. Ugbo's didn't, and he led the Chelsea charge. His piledriver was the highlight of the Checkatrade Trophy, from a Blues perspective, not because it earned them points, but more because it was symbolic for a player beginning to show maturity.

Regardless of results, that was always the point for clubs such as Chelsea in this competition. It's an endeavour aimed at bridging the gap from youth football to the senior game, and Chelsea saw gains—just not as many as they maybe would have liked.

All across the development squad, that has been the case in their three games. Players gradually developed, and none more than Ugbo. From Exeter, he demonstrated another side to his game at Stamford Bridge when Oxford visited west London to close Group C out.

Ugbo wasn't on the scoresheet, although he earned the assist for Josimar Quintero's opener in the game. It was a deft touch to set his team-mate up on the edge of the box, creating the space and time Quintero needed to place his effort into the bottom corner.

As much as Quintero's technique had to be marvelled, so too did Ugbo's contribution. He read the movement, saw what was in front of him and had the conviction to create a goal from nothing. They're the qualities that make strikers such valuable assets.

Ugbo doesn't have the profile of his better-known colleagues, but that shouldn't suggest he doesn't boast the same talents. Abraham and Solanke blazed a trail before him, and we're beginning to see that Ugbo is capable of living up to their standards.

It's time we spoke about him more.

                    

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes

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