Cobham hosts a larger number of players at the start of every preseason than it normally does. New signings and players returning from a loan spells — both domestic and abroad — join the first team to make a case for their inclusion in the senior squad for the upcoming campaign. Preseason begins within a week and while Chelsea fans do not officially have new signings to look forward to just yet, there are a bunch of players returning to the club that might excite the Blues’ faithful.
During the last preseason, not many expected Trevoh Chalobah to secure his place in the first team, but the young Englishman managed to impress manager Thomas Tuchel and earn himself a spot for the 2021/22 campaign. Chalobah has since made 31 appearances for his boyhood club, winning the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup during his breakthrough campaign. While a few names amongst the long list of loan army players — like Armando Broja, Levi Colwill and Conor Gallagher — have come up as potential first team prospects for next season, there are a few other players on Chelsea’s books that have the potential to pull off a Chalobah-esque move and break into the first team.
Who will be the next loan army member to claim a Chelsea first team place?
One of the first names that come to mind when one thinks about players that could have an outside chance at a first team spot this season is Ethan Ampadu. A breakthrough campaign at Chelsea for the young Welshman seems long overdue after he burst onto the scene under Antonio Conte. Managerial uncertainty, not having a defined position on the field and numerous poor loan spells have all contributed to an underwhelming few seasons for Ampadu. Nevertheless, he has taken it in stride and continued to develop into a mature, consistent player over the period.
His loan at Venezia, despite the recent relegation, was a successful one. He even might have found his best position, playing most of his games in defensive midfield and contributing as a centerback when required. He put up great defensive numbers at Venezia, making 3.00 tackles, 2.17 interceptions, 2.14 blocks and 16.92 pressures per 90 minutes in Serie A. The case of Ampadu was very dissimilar to that of Chalobah last preseason, where many expected him to stay put beyond the transfer window — maybe this time he actually might.
Another player that looks to have an outside chance at first team football next season is Dujon Sterling. The 22-year-old has been around for a while now and he was amongst the more popular academy stars before an injury he picked up whilst on loan at Wigan Athletic. This slowed down his progress and in turn, affected his chances of breaking into the first team. Chelsea fans saw glimpses of Sterling’s ability in last season’s preseason game against Bournemouth where he did not put a foot wrong. He then went on a season-long loan to Blackpool, where he impressed immensely. While his attacking output is not as good as the first choice right [wing]back, Reece James, he could be a great option to retain in a squad player capacity for next season.
One would not expect to see a player with 25+ appearances for the club in the last two seasons be a part of this list, but Billy Gilmour unfortunately finds himself facing questions after a disappointing loan with Norwich City. He almost looks like he is down the same path as Ampadu following his last loan spell, but the preseason could be a great opportunity for the Scottish international to claw his way out of the tricky situation he is currently in.
Another such player is Henry Lawrence. Lawrence has been flying under the radar for quite some time now, but those who have been following him know all about him and his James-esque rise in the League One. He is quick, strong, comfortable on the ball and has all of the attributes needed to be a quality fullback. Lawrence might need another season or two to truly realize his potential and break into the first team picture, but that could have been said about Chalobah last season, as well. Luckily for Lawrence, that development process could be sped up with just a few weeks under the tutelage of Tuchel in preseason.
This list is not exclusively for the loan army either. The Blues have welcomed two new arrivals since January. 18-year-old left back from Derby County, Dylan Williams, is one of those individuals. He has been touted as “the next Ashley Cole” and he has been frequently seen training with the first team players. Williams played a key role in helping Chelsea’s development squad secure safety in Premier League 2. Williams is agile, dynamic and he can deliver delicious crosses into the box for attackers to feast on. Seeing as Marcos Alonso is almost certainly going to leave for Barcelona in the summer might just sneak into the first team without making much noise as Chelsea’s left back hunt has gone radio silent.
Mason Burstow is the other individual that was signed by the Blues in January. Burstow joined Chelsea from London neighbors Charlton Athletic, where he enjoyed a fine breakthrough campaign. At just 18, he stands 6-foot-1 (187 cm) tall. His height is one of his strongest advantages he has, as he wins headers frequently from up top. Burstow could blossom into a fantastic target man in the future, but he could still make a case for his inclusion in the team for next season in the capacity of a squad player given Romelu Lukaku’s recent departure.
Not all of these players will play for Chelsea next season or possibly, ever, but that does not mean they do not have what it takes to break through into the Blues’ first team this summer. Preseason begins soon, which means that exciting times are ahead of us. Supporters may see “another Chalobah” earn his spot in the team ahead of next season.