Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour seems fully recovered and match fit now. That sets him up nicely to save the team’s fortunes like last season.
Billy Gilmour got his first start for Chelsea against Grimsby Town in the League Cup on 25 September, 2019. It was immediately clear to some (me) that he was ready for the first team. Yes, it was only Grimsby, but sometimes one can watch a player and simply see that they have got “it”. It is the touch of the ball, the weight of their passes, the eloquence of their movement. Young players can often show these things against teams that far down the pyramid but there is a difference between showing them like an academy player (see Tino Anjorin against Krasnodar) and showing them like a first team player.
It took some time after that for Frank Lampard to find a way to use the young Scotsman. He of course had to juggle minutes for more senior players, especially early in the season. Gilmour was handed a start in the next round of the League Cup against Manchester United. Mind, he was still considered an academy player at this point. He was fully brought into the first team at the end of winter. Lampard backed him with a start against Champions elect Liverpool in the FA Cup and a tricky Premier League fixture against Everton shortly after. The Scotsman excelled in both as the Covid break began, but he was trusted afterwards as well. Were it not for his knee injury, he surely would have ended the season as a starter.
Fast forward to the current and Gilmour has recovered from his knee injury. He also now seems match fit enough to return to the starting XI that only injury could keep him out of. Wee Billy Gilmour is back to save the team like he did in many ways last season.
Chelsea played their best football last season when Gilmour was the deepest midfielder behind the dual eights of Mason Mount and Ross Barkley. Fast forward half a year and Barkley has been replaced in the team by Kai Havertz, but the dual eights have been the way for the Blues most of the season. N’Golo Kante has been playing that deepest role and (mostly) well, but with Gilmour back that spot might find itself in greater contention.
This cannot even be considered hyperbole given Gilmour completely benched Jorginho last season. In fact, it is not a leap to say if Gilmour never got injured, Jorginho would not still be with Chelsea. For all the skills Jorginho actually possesses aside from the narrative built around him, Gilmour has those same skills and can live up to those narratives more effectively.
The matter of Kante is more difficult. He is suspended for Fulham which takes the guess work out of the equation, but afterwards is a different question. As Gilmour was flying last season, Kante was injured. Gilmour benched Jorginho but whether or not he would have done the same to Kante is a question to ask. Gilmour is more of a playmaker and while he is much better at defense than many realize, he isn’t Kante.
There is also the issue of Declan Rice being a continuous target for Lampard and the club. Rice would be the blend of Kante and Gilmour, able to defend well while also having a decent passing ability. Gilmour has the advantage of being young enough to develop the defensive side of his game to match his possession side, but that will still be made mostly moot if Rice comes in.
But for now, Gilmour is ready to step back into the Chelsea starting XI and start knitting the Blues back together again. It is a great deal of pressure to put on the young Scotsman, but time and time again he has only shown he is ready for the burden. There may not be a Champions League final to play in tomorrow, but no one should bat an eye if he starts against Fulham.