Chelsea has several young attacking midfielders who can stay for the long haul. The only question is who pulls ahead for that journey.
Chelsea’s attacking midfielders exist in between two realities. They must press intensely and support the attack in all areas, though not necessarily with their passing. In the more defensive 4-3-3, they need to rotate heavily with wide players to create spaces. It is an awkward job but one that is important to Chelsea’s success. What does the future look like for the three that could be considered attacking midfielders?
Mason Mount, England
Like it or not (it does not matter) but Mount has been the most important player to Frank Lampard’s tactics this season. Everything, from the first counter press to the main thrust of the attack, worked better with Mount on the field. His understanding of space on and off the ball in nearly unparalleled in the squad.
But as the rest of the team has caught up to understand the tactics, Mount’s star has faded somewhat. A lot of that is surely due to fatigue and the simple fact that he is a 21 year old in his first Premier League season. He is playing like a tired 21 year old in the Premier League can be expected to play.
Chelsea and Lampard just need to find a better overall use for his skill set. While he very much was important to making things tick before, the more others catch up the more it seems as if Mount would be better suited on the wing cutting in. Whether or not that really happens will be an open ended question.
Performance so far: Great all things considered, though it is trending downward as he has gotten fatigued.
Will he return next season: Chelsea would be absolutely insane for him not to return.
Ross Barkley, England
It appeared as though Lampard simply did not rate the player who shared his number. Barkley was nowhere to be seen except for the tabloids. Apparently he had a mysterious foot injury that for whatever reason the club and staff opted not to reveal.
Barkley has only played sporadically since returning but in the appearances he has had, he has done well. Barkley seems to play at his best when he is asked to follow the least amount of instructions. Lampard generally gives his attacking midfielders a free role in the 4-2-3-1 and it has only helped Barkley out.
Still, Barkley has a mighty uphill battle. Lampard clearly likes Mount. If Ruben Loftus-Cheek returns as he was, he will take up a spot. That leaves Barkley without much time in the squad. The Chelsea buy was always with an eye towards him fulfilling his potential or reaping a big resale value. It is increasingly looking like the time for the latter.
Performance so far: Incomplete but good in his few appearances this season.
Will he return next season: It seems doubtful given the other players in the squad and the simple fact that a mid table Premier League club could pay the price for him and guarantee him starts.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, England
If Loftus-Cheek was not injured all of this season, he would have been an absolute star for Chelsea. He was already on his way to that last season but playing him in a game that he absolutely did not have to play in has stolen him this time.
Many believe Loftus-Cheek will return and save the team (not unlike they believed with N’Golo Kante and Antonio Rudiger). That may be premature. If Loftus-Cheek does return soon, the chances that he is up to speed before the end of the season are pretty slim. And that is assuming he returns post injury as the player he was pre injury.
Chelsea will surely make an effort to ease Loftus-Cheek back in, but they will not risk his career by trying too much too soon. They will also know that he needs playing time more than anything, which may paint his future for next season like it once did with Kurt Zouma.
Performance so far: Not applicable
Will he return next season: Unless his injury truly cripples him this year and he needs a loan for playing time, he will be back.
How would you evaluate the attacking midfielders so far? Who do you think will return? Let us know in the comments and on Twitter!