In Part One of this series looking at the youth at Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel, the Blues’ prospects have once again been thrown up in the air. With a new coach, system and style, the youth and loan players have a clean slate with which to write. However, it remains to be seen if Tuchel will be convinced they have a spot in his team.
As was outlined in the introductory piece, Mason Mount, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham have been omitted from the crop of young players below. From what can be seen from Tuchel’s first games in charge, Mount and Hudson-Odoi look to feature heavily in the German’s team. Abraham faces a little stiffer competition, but by no means should he be regarded as a fringe player at this point.
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Billy Gilmour is the first player up to the plate and it is a difficult position for the Scot to be in. Gilmour excelled under Lampard in his first season, with the commanding performance he put in against Liverpool in the FA Cup particularly memorable. His lengthy injury layoff came at the worst time for the youngster, as he had endeared himself to the Chelsea faithful while proving there was light at the end of the Jorginho saga. The Blues used Gilmour as a deep-lying pivot, doing away with the oft-maligned, sideways passing Jorginho, and appeared to cement the Scot as an everyday player of this new Chelsea spine.
Now those prospects seem much smaller.
Not only did Gilmour’s injury limit him to a handful of minutes this year under Lampard, but as the pressure turned up on the Englishman, he preferred to use his tried and tested combination of Mateo Kovacic, Mason Mount and N’Golo Kante. Tuchel’s arrival further clouded the picture, despite the fact the German tactician loves to use a deep-lying midfield pivot who can spray passes and dictate play. Marco Verratti at PSG is the perfect example, but Tuchel has nailed down Jorginho for that role in west London.
That doesn’t mean there is no route back for Gilmour to displace Jorginho though. Tuchel has been openly complimentary of the Scot. Gilmour was reportedly looking for a loan away to get playing time to boost his chances of making the Scotland team at the Euros, but Tuchel blocked that. When the new manager personally blocks the loan offers on the table, as a player, you have to take comfort in that. Everything is pointing towards Gilmour getting more chances in the team under Tuchel. With the injuries Kante has had, and the youth Gilmour has on Jorginho, there is every reason for the young Scot to be optimistic.
When Tuchel talked to the press about Gilmour, he was also asked about young attacking midfielder named Tino Anjorin. Tuchel included Anjorin in the same breath as Gilmour. He also highlighted the fact that there was:
"“No need for one minute to think about bringing players in … in the opposite sense, we decided to keep Tino Anjorin and Billy Gilmour with the group because I like a lot of what I see from the two guys.”"
A vote of confidence undoubtedly, but where Gilmour only has competition from Jorginho, Anjorin faces a much taller order.
Mostly used as a winger under Lampard, Anjorin has the likes of Christian Pulisic, Hakim Ziyech, Kai Havertz and Mount to contest with. In Tuchel’s current formation, there are only two spots available for attacking midfielders who play off the central striker, with the wingback acting more like a conventional winger. If he was to play as a wingback, he then faces competition from Ben Chilwell, Marcos Alonso, Emerson, Hudson-Odoi and James—hardly a favourable position to be in.
Pulisic, Havertz and Ziyech are having a hard enough time getting onto the pitch, let alone the starting XI, but Anjorin does benefit from the fact that outside of the first team squad, Chelsea lacks wing options. Kenedy, Charly Musonda and others possess only a remote possibility, so while Anjorin isn’t likely to get much game time under Tuchel, he can take solace in the fact he is front of the pack of the second-string fringe youth players.
Finally, there is James. A breakout season at Wigan won him a spot in the Chelsea squad under Lampard before his stellar play displaced long-time right back Cesar Azpilicueta. James quickly became one of the best players in Lampard’s team, but under Tuchel, he has found playing time a little harder to come by.
Further complicating the matter for James is the fact that Tuchel has so far opted for five at the back, meaning he is forced into playing as a right wingback—a position he hasn’t looked all that comfortable in. James operates best when playing on the overlap of a true winger and whipping crosses in at speed. His pace and strength are great assets, but are best deployed when his starting position is 20 or 30 yards behind the winger where he can run onto the balls or whip crosses in from the edge of the box.
In Tuchel’s system, the wingbacks are effectively the wingers, plastered to the touchline while the two attacking players operate much more as No.10s playing inside off of the central striker. This is why Hudson-Odoi played so well in the first two games under Tuchel, because he was a wingback in name only.
Look at Hudson-Odoi’s average positioning against Wolves and Burnley and he was always at or in front of Ziyech and Havertz at Wolves and Mount against Burnley. It is a position that doesn’t necessarily play to James’ strengths. He will have a role going forward in this Chelsea team, but he has gone from a staple on the team sheet to a potential option. He will still play, and he still has a bright future but it will take some time for him to adapt to the wingback role.
Keep an eye out for part two, coming Friday morning to The Pride of London.