4.25pm on the 8th of March 2020. Seventy minutes into the game, Everton were already dead and buried when the substitutes’ board went up and the Chelsea faithful rose to applaud the display of Willian, coming off after having scored a magnificent goal. Those in the crowd craned their necks to see who would be his replacement and saw an unfamiliar tall, stocky figure with the number 55 displayed in green on the board. Some fans, confused, opened their matchday programme in order to remind themselves which of the reserve players would have eccentrically chosen such a high number, but many fans knew exactly who Tino Anjorin was. They knew that he was certainly not just any old reserve player, but one of England’s brightest young talents. This same process happened again fifteen minutes later when Armando Broja entered the fray, although not as many fans would have known as much about him.
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The Premier League debuts of two teenagers in the same game, both who signed for the Chelsea Academy at under-9 level, excited Blues fans all around the world and caused quite a stir on social media. Broja was the eighth academy player that Frank Lampard has handed a first-team debut to this season, which is a record number and has never been done by a Chelsea manager before, so it has naturally led many fans, who have growing interest and knowledge of the academy at Cobham, to pose the question ‘Who is next?’
In this article I will attempt to answer that question and outline the players from the Chelsea Academy that I think are most likely to make their first-team debut soon.
Ian Maatsen would be the obvious choice given the lack of strength at left back in the senior squad, but he already made his first-team debut off the bench in the League Cup against Grimsby Town so there is no simple answer. Instead, I will give a selection of players and do a brief ‘scout report’ of each of them.
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An FA Youth Cup winner and UEFA Youth League finalist, the 20-year-old has spent this season as part of the first-team squad this season as the third-choice goalkeeper, although he is yet to make his debut. His game time has come with eleven appearances for the Development Squad, but the two first-team goalkeepers ahead of him in the pecking order, Kepa Arrizabalaga and Willy Caballero, have not been at all convincing in their displays and Frank Lampard has not been scared to drop either of them. If the goalkeeping situation remains like this, and if Chelsea have some less important league games towards the end of the season with nothing riding on them, then we could see Cumming be given the nod between the sticks.
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Arguably the Academy player of the season so far, the 18-year-old is extremely versatile. The Englishman’s favoured position is central midfield, but he has played mainly at full-back on both sides this season, as well as on either wing and even at centre-back in a three. He is the most likely player to be picked on the first-team bench if there is a space free due to injuries, because of his reliability and ability to play in so many positions. He is very consistent – the type of player that never drops below a six out of ten, and has a cracker of a goal in him, one of which I was lucky enough to see up close at Stamford Bridge against Brighton in September when he stole the limelight from Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James, who were returning from injury. Lawrence is the most likely player from the Academy to be picked on the first-team bench if there is a space free due to injuries, because of his reliability and ability to play in so many positions.
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The 21-year-old returned to Chelsea in January after an unsuccessful loan spell at League One outfit Shrewsbury Town, so it is understandable that he is overlooked by some Blues fans. However, people have quickly forgotten how influential the Englishman was last season for the Academy, captaining the U19 side to the UEFA Youth League final. He scored twice in the quarter-final and once in both the round of sixteen and the semi-final and was a real talismanic figure for the team. He has recently trained with the Chelsea first-team, and his willingness to do the dirty work for the team is something that Frank Lampard would welcome. He also would have no better advocates for his ability than current first-team assistant managers, Jody Morris and Joe Edwards, who were both once his manager.
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Twice an FA Youth Cup winner and an England Under-20 International, Uwakwe can play as a central/attacking midfielder or on either wing. The 20-year-old has fantastic quick feet and a left foot like a traction engine, which is an option in attack that the Chelsea first-team simply don’t have. A mainstay in the Development Squad PL2 starting XI both this season and last, Frank Lampard could be convinced that it is time his hard work is rewarded with an opportunity in the first-team. It is likely that he will go on loan next season to further his development, but, like Cumming, he could be given a chance to prove himself in the first-team if there are any less meaningful fixtures towards the end of the season.
Ones for the future
Despite their recent outstanding performances for the Academy sides which have earned them much acclaim on social media, I have not included names like Tino Livramento or Lewis Bate as they have only just started playing for the Development Squad, and are still on the fringes of the Starting XI. They are both only 17 years old and signed their first professional deals earlier this season, so it is very unlikely that they would play for the first-team any time soon. Their potential is undoubted – they are the pick of the bunch from their age group – but we are more likely to see them making their first-team debuts perhaps next season or the season after.
Have I missed anyone out? Let me know in the comments below!
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