As part of our review of the 2016-17 Chelsea Loan Report season, we’re focusing on ten of the 44 players who embarked upon temporary moves away from Stamford Bridge. The ten players have been selected as being amongst the most interesting of the group; be it for their proximity to the first-team squad under Antonio Conte, for the league they’re playing in, the progress they’ve made at a tender age, or simply because their situation warrants closer inspection, we’ll take a look at the year just gone, review the footage in depth, and take a moment to ponder what the future holds.
June 13th: Tammy Abraham
Today’s focus is on Kasey Palmer.
– 27 appearances, 5 goals for Huddersfield Town
What does he do well?
A part of a stunning promotion effort by Huddersfield Town, Kasey might only have been fit for half of the season, but in that time he established himself as a versatile and reliable operator not solely reliant on the penchant for the spectacular that marked him out for stardom during his time in the Chelsea academy.
In fact, that might have been the most impressive aspect of his first season in professional football, as he displayed the requisite tools and mentality to handle himself in the rough and tumble of the adult game. None of his five goals were of the worldy variety, instead coming from close range, in and around the ‘dirty’ areas some of the best goalscoring midfielders found themselves in throughout their careers.
Not that there was a lack of showmanship either. A human highlight reel most of the time, Palmer impressively seemed to instantly know when and where to use a trick to his advantage, and it made for quite the compilation over the course of his stay at the John Smith’s Stadium. Manager David Wagner used a versatile and fluid front four in which he was asked to play out wide, in the number ten position, and even as a false nine on occasion, whilst naturally dropping deeper into midfield in an effort to orchestrate proceedings. One of the league’s most effective dribblers, he combined his ball-carrying ability with a robust presence to hold up the ball in the final third, regularly receiving passes from the centre-backs in the build-up phase before turning defence into attack efficiently and capably. He both held his own statistically and could be counted on in the areas where it’s harder to objectively measure success; Town’s season and subsequent promotion are as strong a vindication as you’ll find that he did his job.
A persistent hamstring problem curtailed his progress after Christmas, which was a huge shame, as until that point he had shown that he had everything needed in order to move into Premier League football next season. That might well still happen, and if it does, it speaks volumes about the work he put in from August to December.
Where does he have room for improvement?
It’s primarily a case of refinement at this stage for Palmer. There are no major questions about his fitness or his ability to get through a full season as, prior to the hamstring issue, there were no major long-term layoffs or issues with his conditioning, but until he does complete a senior professional season, some people will raise questions about it.
His five goals would have projected to somewhere around 8-12 for the season overall, a respectable total, but one Chelsea fans know he’s capable of bettering in the second tier. He definitely left some meat on the bone in that regard, sometimes through a lack of selfishness in trying to play a team-mate in, and at other times he was guilty of holding onto possession a beat too long; in academy football, the shot would still have been there, but Championship defends will close that down twice as quickly, and top flight foes even sooner still.
That’s the crux of the next stage of development for Palmer. He does most things very impressively, and the challenge is to do them just as well whilst playing amongst better players. Plenty of prospects fall down when asked to do things quickly and sharply; it’s up to him to show he’s as good as everyone thinks he is whilst continuing to work hard on his defensive game. He famously revealed that Wagner only ever spoke to him about his work off the ball, as much a compliment about his technical ability as it was putting him on notice about the required standards, and the strides he made in that area will need to be built upon in his next challenge.
How does he fit into this Chelsea team?
In the 3-4-3, Palmer would have to play in one of the two flanking roles in attack, most commonly occupied by Eden Hazard and Pedro last season, and it’s Hazard’s game he identifies with more closely. As mentioned earlier, Huddersfield would often look to him as the target for their distribution from deep, and he displayed an impressive dexterity in how he received possession, doing so in aerial duels against centre-backs just as successfully as he did with the ball into feet. Like Hazard, he prefers to come deep to get the ball, rather than running in behind like Pedro, but is a more effective physical presence than either. Though it would be unlikely, utilising him alongside the duo as a false nine could create some very interesting advantages, as his natural game combines Hazard’s natural flair with Pedro’s busy and energetic style and offers more defensively than both.
In the longer-term, he has the attributes to play centrally in a deeper role, but the responsibility right now might be a step too far, and would compromise his ability to influence the game in the final third. He has shown he can handle any forward role in a 4-2-3-1 but, should Conte adopt a more formal 4-4-2, he would most likely have to play as one of the two central forwards – perhaps in a withdrawn role – as he isn’t a pure wide player and would be limited by being restricted to just one side of the pitch.
What are his prospects for 2017-18?
Huddersfield’s promotion means they’re limited to one loanee from each fellow Premier League team, and to a maximum of two from Premier League clubs in total. Having had four such deals last season – Palmer, Izzy Brown, Liverpool’s Danny Ward and Man City’s Aaron Mooy, their options are limited and it might make it hard for him to continue working under David Wagner.
There will be interest from elsewhere in the league, though, with Bournemouth increasingly linked with his services. He finds himself on a knife-edge between the Premier League and the Championship; the former represents a high risk/high reward venture, with the downside being a waste of time for a player turning 21 in November, whilst a return to the Championship could be just as big of a risk of stagnation without being suitably challenged by a step up in opposition. Splitting 2017-18 in two between divisions could be a handy compromise, but it would be surprising if a top-level loan wasn’t sorted one way or another.