Chelsea and ‘youth’ are two words which before this season didn’t go together at all, but the arrival of Joe Edwards, Jody Morris and Frank Lampard in the home dugout as well as the transfer ban certainly changed that linkup. As fans have seen the likes of Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori, Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Billy Gilmour all have a proper shot with the first team, the Chelsea academy has never been as popular. More and more Chelsea supporters have been trying to look down the age groups to try and find out who the next ‘talent’ is, and even some of them have made an appearance this season.
Marc Guehi has featured against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup, while the likes of Tino Anjorin, Ian Maatsen and Armando Broja have all debuted for Chelsea at some point this season. All four players have such high potential and have impressed when given their minutes, such that the academy players would be working even harder to try and push into that first team. One player who has been in the spotlight recently is Lewis Bate, who made the bench against Sheffield United at just the age of 17 – check out our scouting report of the young English midfielder by my fellow writer Orlando. If it wasn’t for his injury in training with the first team, there is a good chance that Henry Lawrence could have been involved in the squad too. But who is exactly Henry Lawrence, and why isn’t his name being mentioned much?
Just to clear things up, sometimes young players’ name’s being mentioned less can be a good thing. As Pat Nevin said in our exclusive interview, it would be harsh to comment on the ‘next big thing’ from the academy since all it is doing is putting immense pressure on them when the transformation from youth football to men’s football is definitely a huge one. As we have seen with Billy Gilmour, his substitution against Sheffield United wasn’t convincing and led to us dropping a 2-0 lead, and therefore was put under immense pressure from the Chelsea fanbase and was blamed for us losing two points, yet only a few months later he dropped two masterclasses in a week against Liverpool and Everton. Also, like I said, Lawrence had trained with the first team a couple of times throughout the season and has impressed Lampard according to certain reports, and him going under the radar means that he can just do his work and business without being in the headlines.
Enough waffling though, let’s get into Henry Lawrence as a player…
Henry’s name was first brought up properly on social media at the beginning of the season, when he scored a screamer against Brighton at Stamford Bridge for the development team. His curling effort from a tight angle was mainly overshadowed by a Callum Hudson-Odoi assist who received the ball with a great switch from Reece James, yet as I was sitting in East Lower with the fans, I kept an eye on the fullback and the more I watched him the more I was impressed. After the game, I contacted him on Instagram congratulating him on the goal and a really solid performance, and he replied and ever since we have stayed in touch, which also shows a touch of class which not many footballers have the time for.
As the season went on, as I attended more matches at Kingsmeadow and plenty more games were being streamed on The Fifth Stand, I kept an eye on Lawrence more and more and his ability really started to shine, especially in the FA Youth Cup, and personally he has a really strong contention for Academy Player of the Season.
If you know anything about Lawrence, it’ll most likely be that he’s extremely versatile. We joked about it during a chat, but he has played in every single position apart from Goalkeeper some time this season, including striker in pre-season. Shifting from Right-Back to Left-Back, sometimes to Centre-Back in a back three, often as a Wing-Back on either side, originally being a midfielder, and playing on both wings too, Lawrence has played to a top level in each position and shown enough Football IQ to understand the game fully.
With some players, I think having a few positions under their belt can be a negative thing. For example, with players like Trevoh Chalobah and Ethan Ampadu, as much as it is great for them to get minutes while on loan and to experience different positions and roles, for me I would love to see Chalobah nail down the Centre-Back role, and for the Welsh player to stick as a central defensive midfielder, where he is best at for Wales. But with other players, it can work – playing in a few different positions. Players like James Milner has played in multiple positions throughout his career and excelled in each one, as welling as moving between them as he aged. Even Chelsea club captain Cesar Azpilicueta has played in both fullback roles as well as a centre-back in a 3 at the back formation, and I have also seen some extremely dodgy shouts on the timeline saying that he has the qualities to play in defensive midfield! Lawrence can definitely be like one of the latter players, and there isn’t anyone better than Dave to learn from.
Lawrence has recently been compared to Ethan Ampadu, however I’d argue that that’s an easy and lazy comparison to make and that comparisons to Azpilicueta make a lot more sense. It’s not necessarily the style of play which makes them similar, but more the level of consistency. Dave has been named ‘Mr Consistent’ by Chelsea fans all over the world, and every single game he puts in a shift no matter what. Lawrence has shown a high level of consistency over the season and I’d struggle to namy any disasterclasses.
Another way in which you could compare the two is that they both play a nice and simple game, but still a good one. That is certainly a quality which Frank Lampard likes. As Lampard said in a press-conference and Roy Keane emphasised in the Sky Sports studio, Billy Gilmour was just playing a very simple game ‘like the old days’ and was always looking forward, trying to keep the ball moving and being aware defensively. None of the fancy flicks and turns in midfield, nor dancing in celebrations, just simply wants to play the game and help the team score as many goal as possible. Although Henry does have some flair in his locker due to playing in the midfield previously, he’s not the one to always show it and like Azpilicueta plays a simple game and is very composed on the ball.
To round off the article, let’s quickly go through some other qualities. Lawrence has a really powerful shot, as shown by his goal against Liverpool, and really aims to keep it on target. Have a look at his goal which according to my memory brought us level at the time…
His dribbling is also one of his best qualities, but to be honest, I think I could say that for every single Chelsea academy graduate with how advanced the training technically is. He’s not afraid to dribble past a player in defence to create another option, or if it’s to whip in a cross. Arguably his best goal, in his international debut for the England U19’s, consisted of him running all the way from the halfway line, dribbling past three players and tucking it sweetly into the bottom left hand corner.
Obviously with him being a quick player and being able to dribble well, it opens up a lot of opportunities to cross the ball in or make the right pass. So many times you will see him go past a player and cross it in brilliantly into the box, or to beat a few players which opens up a lot of space for the likes of Anjorin and Bate to do the work in front of goal. A few times this season Lawrence has also broken the lines with one simple pass, something which Lampard is looking for more and more.
Finally, it’s the work he does off the ball which really shouldn’t be missed. Defensively the fullback is strong and really isn’t afraid to put in a tackle or go into a 50/50. When moving off the ball, it’s arguably some of the best I have seen. He’s always looking to make an option and really understands what the players around him wants to do. Something which Reece James has done a lot this season is come into midfield in a three at the back formation, and when playing four at the back he’s overlapping a lot more and whipping crosses in. Lawrence is constantly making inward and outward runs and is able to do both pretty well due to playing in so many positions, and for the opposition defender it must be extremely confusing. I think Chelsea Academy guru @chelseayouth summed it up quite well…
I’ve said it when writing scout reports on Gilmour, Anjorin and Bate and I’ll repeat it again. The transformation from youth football to men’s football is very hard and we don’t know how they’ll get on, but the potential is very high and I’m sure he’s working hard to reach that level.
Want to know about my opinion and Orlando’s on other academy players? Have a listen to our podcast we recorded a few months ago where we went through and talked about as many academy players as we could…