Without doubt, the standout player throughout Chelsea’s pre-season so far has been academy product Ola Aina.
Under previous management, the young full back never really got much of a look in; but his role so far under Conte would suggest that that is about to change.
Out of nowhere, Aina has become a main-stay in the Chelsea back four, and with question marks often raised surrounding the role of Branislav Ivanovic in the Chelsea squad – could this be the perfect time for Aina to receive his promotion to Chelsea first team?
The young defender is still young and raw, but everything he has shown so far has suggested that he is deserving of a place in the Chelsea team at the expense of veteran defender Ivanovic.
Here are FIVE reasons why Ola Aina MUST replace Ivanovic next season…
There is no doubting that Branislav Ivanovic has, of late, been woefully out of form.
Many would argue that he was The Blues’ worst player last season, with opposition sides often exploiting the right hand side of the Chelsea defence; with Ivanovic seen as a weak spot.
He has been an excellent long term servant to Chelsea Football Club, but in recent years – he simply hasn’t been good enough.
He is woefully out of form, and in a team that should be picked based on merit; Ivanovic should struggle to make the match day squad.
Conversely, Ola Aina appears to be in the form of his life.
Granted, it is just pre-season – but Aina is keeping up and then some with many of the veterans of the Chelsea first team.
He has fit into the back line like a fish to water; and you would be hard pressed to find a neutral that might think he was still a teenager.
He has quality and composure far beyond his years, and seems a perfect fit in a new look Chelsea back line.
On form, Aina takes the cake.
You cannot underestimate the importance of getting young Chelsea academy graduates into the first team.
Both Roman Abramovich and the Chelsea fans have been clamouring for a home-grown star to support for years, and with John Terry seemingly nearing the end of his career; Aina could be the next break out star.
There will be no greater legacy that Antonio Conte could leave behind after his spell with The Blues than to have brought in a few young players; and Aina is fully deserving of becoming one of those stars.
At a time where Chelsea are paying £20 million for average full backs in the form of Baba Rahman; The Blues have a homegrown talent in the form of Ola Aina that is twice the player that Rahman will ever be – and they must utilise that.
For the sake of the board, and the sake of the fans – youth must be a main focus of the Chelsea first team – and Aina should be the first graduate of this new era.
You also have to look at the situation objectively – Ola Aina is a player for the present and the future.
Branislav Ivanovic is a Chelsea legend, and his form since he joined the club has been exceptional. He has helped the club win trophies year upon year and has been a thorn in the side of many top forwards.
But at 32 years old; Ivanovic’s days with Chelsea are numbered. He isn’t a player for the future; his best is already behind him and this may well be his last season in Blue.
Aina on the other hand is just 19 years old; and so could theoretically become a part of the Chelsea spine for over a decade.
Value wise, Ola Aina is a crown jewel for the Blues; Ivanovic’s star is definitely beginning to fade.
Though this is out of the hands of everyone involved; the fact is that circumstance has already played a large part of Ola Aina’s rise to the Chelsea first team during pre-season; and it will likely play a part going forward.
Branislav Ivanovic started pre-season as the first choice right back, but a recent injury has put him on the sidelines. Reports have suggested that he has a shoulder injury, and could be out for anywhere from 3 weeks to 2 months; meaning he could theoretically miss the start of the Premier League season.
As Chelsea’s only genuine first team right back, with Azpilicueta now considered a left back – Ola Aina is seemingly next in line.
Conte appears to be grooming Aina as a starter in place of Ivanovic due to the risk of his inability to play in the opening week – and that could just give the young full back the opportunity that he needs.
Once he gets his foot in the door; you can bet he will do all he can to stay inside.