Cobham Graduates and Optimistic Pessimism

This matchweek in the Premier League, Conor Gallagher and Marc Guéhi of Crystal Palace came up against Tino Livramento and Armando Broja’s Southampton. Gallagher – in the midst of an absolutely stellar start to the season – gave the ball away for Broja’s excellent goal, his sixth in as many starts for the Saints. Livramento was typically eager and busy down the right hand side, and Guéhi – one of Palace’s most consistent and dependable players this season – nearly scored a late winner. 

Elsewhere, Ruben Loftus-Cheek continued to defy all expectations in at the very least looking like a Chelsea-level player again, and Trevoh Chalobah’s recent injury-enforced absence saw his unforeseen importance to Thomas Tuchel’s side become clear in Chelsea’s recent uncharacteristic defensive frailties. Mason Mount went even further in showing his worth by scoring in four consecutive Premier League games during a difficult period in which none of Chelsea’s other attackers have been firing. The 22-year-old has already exceeded his Premier League direct goal contribution tally of last season in less than half the games – he has 13 in 14 so far this season, compared to last campaign’s 12 in 36 – and continues to improve his overall game as time moves on as well.

It is starkly noticeable when looking at the performances of Cobham graduates in senior football this season – particularly Livramento, Broja, Chalobah, Loftus-Cheek, Levi Colwill, Ian Maatsen and Fikayo Tomori among others – that they have a knack for exceeding even generous expectations. Even the most avid fans of Chelsea’s academy and its graduates would not have predicted the likes of Livramento and Colwill to do so well – and, crucially, consistently well – in stepping into senior football straight from the Premier League 2. The loans of both Broja and Maatsen seemed somewhat ambitious, moving up a considerable level and perhaps unnecessarily so, but they have taken it in their stride and nailed down key starting roles for their new clubs.

At Chelsea’s first-team level, the representation of academy graduates seemed to be going down a deep, dark hole this summer. Tomori and Tammy Abraham were sold off despite showing themselves clearly to be Chelsea standard; top talents Livramento and Lewis Bate refused to sign contract extensions in favour of first-team opportunities elsewhere – and there were many more academy departures.

However, two of Cobham’s more already-established graduates in Chalobah and Loftus-Cheek stepped forward, both shining in pre-season and subsequently finding themselves in a position that most likely even they did not foresee. Chalobah has a strong case for being one of Chelsea’s top five best performers this season, which is absolutely crazy given that he was playing in a Ligue 1 relegation battle last season and was being touted for moves far below the level of Chelsea. That’s not to say that he was bad at Lorient – he was excellent, but not even his biggest fans foresaw him being able to so seamlessly make such a big step up.

As for Loftus-Cheek, his comeback has been remarkable: from being very underwhelming in a relegated Fulham side last season, he has played some of his best football in a Chelsea shirt even including pre-injury and has played nearly 50% of the available minutes in the Premier League.

All this is to say that Cobham’s graduates demand a degree of optimism even in pessimistic evaluations of their situations and future prospects. That is something to bear in mind in particular when looking at the poor (on surface-level) results of Andy Myers’ U23 side this season.

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