Chelsea’s loss of the Premier League title to Manchester United last season raised many questions at Stamford Bridge and led to the departure of under-fire manager Carlo Ancelotti. Apart from laying blame at the door of the now departed boss, another well-quoted problem has been squad age. With many of their key players over the age of 30, Andre Villas-Boas faces the task of not only trying to regain the league title but also blooding youngsters into a side desperate for fresh legs.
The current Chelsea squad is littered with young stars, some of which promise much for years to come whilst others have more chance of having an immediate impact at Stamford Bridge. Whilst Villas-Boas’ reported interest in the likes of Luka Modric, Romelu Lukaku and Javier Pastore are good signs, he should finally invest in Chelsea’s own youth ranks rather than paying large transfer fees for big name stars.
The most promising stars of Chelsea’s often over-shadowed youth system are Josh McEachran, Daniel Sturridge and Gael Kakuta. Both Kakuta and Sturridge enjoyed loan spells within the Premier League last season, with Sturridge’s successful time at Bolton a particular highlight. Since his arrival at Chelsea Villas-Boas has made plenty of mention on using younger players but the boss must now back that up with giving these youngsters enough playing time in the league to really develop.
Midfielder McEachran is making particularly good progress and has figured in the first team during pre-season. His elegance, technique and passing on the ball make the 18-year-old stand out and he looks to be a promising long-term replacement for 33-year-old Frank Lampard. But Chelsea’s pursuit of Luka Modric would push McEachran down the pecking order and possibly out on loan. If McEachran is going to continue his promising development he needs first team action on a regular basis.
Further forward in attack is Daniel Sturridge, the loan star of last season at Bolton. The England U21 international enjoyed a fantastic spell at the Reebok Stadium but returned to a Chelsea team with fierce competition in attack. Chelsea’s reported interest in a player like Lukaku would only offer more competition and possibly limit Sturridge’s chances. The 21-year-old now needs to be given a proper chance to show he can replicate his scoring form for the Blues and if he can stake a claim for a regular first team slot he could be the ideal replacement for 33-year-old Didier Drogba. At this stage in his career I don’t believe another loan move away from the club would be any benefit to Sturridge.
20-year-old midfielder Gael Kakuta is a slightly different situation for Chelsea. Unlike McEachran and Sturridge who look to be making an impact in the first-team, Kakuta is still a less assured talent. His loan spell with Fulham wasn’t as successful as the likes of Sturridge but the young Frenchman is a good player and recently signed a new long-term deal that indicates his future will be at Stamford Bridge. Kakuta’s skill and willingness to take on players could be a useful asset to the manager but Villas-Boas must now decide whether to send Kakuta out on loan again or give him a chance at Chelsea. However if he does stay he needs to be given a proper chance to have an impact on the first team.
Kakuta, Sturridge and McEachran have only managed 19 first team starts between them at Chelsea and whilst they have only broken through in the last few years, this is a stat that the manager must improve upon next season. However Villas-Boas will be taking a risk in putting faith in inexperienced players when the demand for good results straight away will be very high.
Villas-Boas has arrived at Chelsea under the heavy weight of expectation and whilst he must find the balance between experience and youthful energy, blooding some of Chelsea’s finest youth talents must now be a priority for a team whose struggles have often been defined by age.
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