It’s been quite a few months on the Chelsea loan front. With some two dozen youngsters having been sent out to destinations far and wide in order to continue their development, it’s oftentimes hard to keep track of their progress.
At this mid-season juncture, it’s time to take a look at who’s fared well, who hasn’t, and who might be in for a change of scenery this coming January; for better or for worse.
Patrick Bamford has been in sparkling for for MK Dons so far this season, scoring 16 goals at the time of writing and marking himself out as a special talent in League One. Manager Karl Robinson has been effusive in his praise for the ex-Nottingham Forest forward and believes he has everything required to go to the very top. His deal at StadiumMK is due to end in January and whilst there is little doubt that all parties would be happy for the deal to be extended until the end of the season, a move to a more challenging league cannot be ruled out, especially with interest in him said to be high.
Thibaut Courtois’ third season in Madrid has gone just as much to plan as his previous two. Now established as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, he’s become the backbone of arguably Europe’s sternest defence and has stood up to the rigours of Champions League football for the first time. With Atlético mixing it at the business end of competition at home and on the continent, the Belgian custodian will seek to maintain his high level of play right through to next summer and the World Cup in Brazil.
It came as something of a surprise to see Thorgan Hazard return to Zulte Waregem for the 2013-14 season, especially considering the ease with which he played in the Jupiler League towards the end of the previous campaign. However, the move came with assurances of playing time, and to his credit Thorgan has stepped up and become one of the best players in the country. He’s already exceeded his tallies of goals and assists in his second year there and is the creative hub of his team’s play. Expect more of the same in 2014 as Essevee try to get their title bid back on track without the distraction of the Europa League.
Aside from any discussion as to whether Romelu Lukaku should be playing at Stamford Bridge or Goodison Park, it’s been another successful few months for the Belgian. Having been something of an impact substitute at West Brom last season, he’s now a first choice regular starter for Everton and whilst he continues to score abundantly, the rest of his game has come along rather nicely too. His fitness and stamina levels are markedly improved and his approach play is far more refined.
Lucas Piazon is perhaps the loanee who has made the most headlines so far. The Brazilian forward has been one of the Eredivisie’s players of the season so far as Vitesse seek a first ever Dutch league title. Piazon has surpassed double figures in goals and has nearly as many assists, but it’s the consistent threat he poses and the leadership he’s developing which has really stood out as something to take away from his time at the Gelredome so far. His technical quality was never in doubt but since moving to the Netherlands he’s turned into a far more assertive player; one who will do (and has done) whatever it takes to get the job done. If Peter Bosz’s side are going to realise their aspirations come May, Piazon will have been front and centre.
Whilst Piazon has stolen the headlines, Patrick van Aanholt has been a bastion of consistency at left-back and, now in his third spell in Arnhem, is definitely ready for bigger things. He has matured into a physically capable full-back who is very much at home in the modern age of players in his position; he has three goals to his name along with a handful of assists whilst holding things down in his own end of the pitch. A full debut for the Dutch national team in November was well deserved and he has an outside chance of going to next summer’s World Cup before inevitably trying to break into the first team picture at Chelsea.
Christian Atsu hasn’t been quite has impressive as Messrs Piazon and Van Aanholt, but he has the potential to become so between now and the end of the season. A deadline day arrival from FC Porto, it took him a little while to settle in his new surroundings but after ten games, he looks very much at home. Somewhat surprisingly, despite having featured as a winger in Portugal and for the Ghanaian national team, he’s slotted in as a number ten for Vitesse, playing just behind forward Mike Havenaar and between wide men Piazon and Renato Ibarra. He’s played very well there too, seeing a lot of the ball and threatening in dangerous areas rather than being confined to one side of the pitch. With a bit more luck, he would already have more than just the one goal, and should finish the season with at least half a dozen strikes.
A second season in the Spanish Second Division probably wasn’t the ideal move for 22 year-old Uli Dávila, especially after proving himself more than equipped for the task at Sabadall last season, but new club Córdoba have lofty ambitions and added Dávila for their promotion push. He started slowly but a hat-trick against Hercules got him off and running, and he’ll be a regular feature from here on out.
Every inch the solid pro, Todd Kane has been a near ever-present for a Blackburn Rovers team finally approaching some stability after a few tumultuous years. His cause was aided by the permanent hiring of Gary Bowyer as manager – the former reserve team boss brought him in whilst caretaker having seen him first hand playing against Rovers – but his full-blooded approach and relentless energy have made him a fixture in the side. There’s little reason to think that won’t continue in 2014.
International duty and injury meant a frustrating first few months of the season for Milan Lalkovic, which came as a huge shame after he scored on the opening day of Walsall’s season at home to Tranmere. A corner was turned in mid-November though, and with regular training and football came a series of impressive displays, match-winning goals, and clear progress. His Chelsea contract ends in June and what he does between now and then will weigh heavily on what happens beyond that date.
Things have gone as well as they could have been expected to for big Croatian forward Stipe Perica, who joined Chelsea rather out of the blue in August before heading to NAC Breda in the Netherlands. The decision to send him there rather than Vitesse was borne out of the Serbian and Bosnian influence amongst the NAC coaching staff, making it easier for the teenager to settle, and whilst starts have been hard to come by, four goals as an impact sub have offered a glimpse of what might be to come.
George Saville’s move to League One outfit Brentford came about largely because he caught the eye of Sporting Director Mark Warburton in last season’s NextGen Series, a competition which Warburton was involved in launching. A regular under Uwe Rosler from day one, his crisp passing and no-nonsense approach to midfield play endeared him to the fans and coaching staff alike, and although Rosler upped sticks and headed to Wigan, Warburton taking over the managerial reins bodes well for him keeping his place. The initial six-month loan spell is due to end on New Year’s Day and talks are ongoing with regards an extension, but whispers of a reunion with Rosler in The Championship could yet materialise into a change of team.
For the second season running, Sam Walker has been amongst Colchester’s best players, and with his Chelsea deal up in the summer, talks will doubtless be held with a view to making his stay at the Weston Homes Community Stadium a permanent one. It would make sense for all parties.
Little of note
Sam Hutchinson has barely featured for Vitesse so far, having instead focused on fitness and rehab after missing out on pre-season. His problems are well documented and have to be taken into account when appraising any of his situations…Cristian Cuevas, also at Vitesse, has been confined to the club’s Under-23 side and, in a similar manner to Uli Dávila’s stay there two years ago, has mainly been adapting to Europe and the rigours of being a professional in a top level environment…Marko Marin started well at Sevilla and scored twice in a Europa League qualifier but picked up a hamstring injury early in the season and has been sidelined ever since…Victor Moses scored on his Liverpool debut away to Swansea but once Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge were all available for selection, he was reduced to the role of substitute…Jhon Pírez has seemingly managed to stay relatively fit for the first time in years but is a rotational option for Spanish third tier club Leganés.
Need a new club
Nathaniel Chalobah was amongst the best players in The Championship last season as a midfield monster for a Watford side that fell one game shy of promotion to the Premier League. A pre-season with Jose Mourinho’s first team suggested he was capable of at least a backup role at Stamford Bridge but it was decided that he would benefit from another season of development elsewhere.
An injury picked up on England Under-21 duty scared clubs from completing a deal in August, meaning the best he could hope for was a three month deal to a football league side, and that factored alongside reported demands of any potential suitor covering the majority of his new £30k p/w contract reduced the field considerably. Watford were interested in renewing ties but Nottingham Forest won the bidding war, and three months down the line, it doesn’t look like the best decision.
He has struggled to earn a place in the team, completing ninety minutes just once all season, and at this stage it would be a huge surprise if he was there beyond the end of his deal in mid January. A player of his talent and potential must be treated with more care going forward and the next move has to be a better one.
The same can be said for Josh McEachran, who had a solid year with Middlesbrough in 2012-13 and could have arguably earned a Premier League move this season. That didn’t come to pass, and like Chalobah, an August injury meant his loan departure was delayed until late September. He effectively replaced Chalobah at Watford, but struggled to bring the same influence to the Hornets, which wasn’t a surprise as the two are different types of player. Illness kept him out of the team towards the end of November and as the club’s form grew poorer and poorer, Gianfranco Zola resigned ten days before Christmas. It would be a surprise if he was still at Vicarage Road come the end of the winter transfer window.
Gael Kakuta’s first year at Vitesse was a pretty good one, but fates have conspired against him a little in year two, which sort of sums up his entire Chelsea career. He started the season injured and by the time he had returned to fitness, his place in the team had been taken by Christian Atsu, a shiny new Chelsea signing six months his junior and already further along in his development. A place on the bench has been his ever since, and last week’s public admission that he wants to leave Chelsea and get on with things came as no surprise. He could find just that next month.
Oriol Romeu had one poor game at the start of his loan to Valencia and it cost him the best part of three months of action. Only towards the beginning of December did he earn a reprieve and another opportunity to impress, and this time he grabbed it. Preliminary discussions have been held with a view to him staying at the Mestalla and Chelsea are unlikely to put up much of a fight to keep him.
Wallace’s move to Inter has been an unmitigated disaster with just three substitute appearances in Serie A to show for his five months there to date. After being fairly impressive for the Blues in Asia last summer, far more was expected of him, and if he’s not going to play for the Nerazzurri, it’s incumbent upon his parent club to put him somewhere where he will.
Finally, Matej Delac actually found a club prepared to give him playing time this season as Serbian outfit Vojvodina mounted a surprising early-season title challenge with the Croatian in goal. A three-month winter break meant it made little sense to keep him there for the entirety of the 2013-14 season though, and he’s returned looking for another club and perhaps a permanent departure with six months left on his Chelsea deal.
As always, you can keep abreast of everything on Chelsea’s young loan stars throughout the season here at TheChels.net and on Twitter @chelseayouth.