The lack of depth in our first team at the moment, I don’t think is a problem anybody should be really surprised with. To embark on what would be, in all probability, a 60+ game season, with a squad of just 23 (including two average back up keepers and uncapped teenagers) was always going to leave us somewhat susceptible to a mini-crisis of this nature. With Mikel and Moses in Africa, Romeu out long term, Cech and Luiz injured and Hazard suspended, the manager’s means of rotating this squad have all but disintegrated.
The situation overall isn’t that bad. Within three weeks we should have everyone back and available for selection (apart from Romeu, obviously). But recent results and the last three games in particular, have really begun to test the patience of some fans. I feel as frustrated as anyone when I see our team sheets at the moment. Lampard and Ramires would be my last choice midfield pairing, whilst having to play either a full-back or the so far unimpressive Marko Marin in an attacking position, isn’t exactly ideal either. I wouldn’t however, as some people have recently, choose to attribute blame to the management of the club, regarding the size of our squad at the minute. With 22 players out on loan this season, what we’re experiencing isn’t the consequence of a lack of fore-sight, but of the decision that has clearly been taken to invest heavily in youth.
At the moment, Chelsea have unquestionably one of the greatest collections of footballers aged 21 and under on the planet. With Hazard, Oscar, Romeu, Moses, Feruz, Lukaku, McEachran, Courtois, De Bruyne and Piazon (the latter 5 of whom are on loan) we have the foundations of what could easily be a Champions League winning team. Would we be stronger right now, if they were all here at the club as reserves? Obviously we would. But having spent well in excess of £100m on these players, the priority has to be their development and making sure they’re ready to be regular first team players in a couple of years time. If we can do that, then going trophyless for this (and maybe next) season doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice to me.
Looking at some cases individually:
Thibaut Courtois – We all know Ross Turnbull and Hilario aren’t especially talented but suggestions that our young Belgian keeper should be re-called from Atletico to deputise for Cech, are just stupid. He hasn’t even been at the Spanish club two years and already he’s been targeted allegedly by both Real Madrid and Barcelona, his performances have been that impressive. For a keeper to be regarded so highly at age 20 is virtually unheard of. For him to return and sit on the bench as Cech’s #2 would have him looking for another club within weeks. If Turnbull as ‘first choice back-up’ for a while longer is the price to pay to have Thibaut return as one of the best in the world, then that’s fine as far as I’m concerned.
Josh McEachran – To view this transformation of systems being undertaken as the move from Frank Lampard’s (powerful and direct) Chelsea to McEachran’s (skilful and technically sound) Chelsea would be laughably romantic wish-thinking, I’m aware, but still potentially accurate. With Frank leaving in the summer, the next year or so will be crucial for Josh if he is to prove himself capable of being a Chelsea and England regular. One thing is for sure, he won’t prove anything sitting on our bench. The exact same applies to Romelu Lukaku and Lucas Piazon, who although may be less polished talents than McEachran at this stage; their potential and their need for regular first team football is the same.
Kevin De Bruyne – De Bruyne is possibly the only exception to this argument. He was impressive for Belgium in their last two World Cup qualifiers and apparently has been excellent for Werder Bremen, although they’re struggling at the moment. From what I’ve read the young Belgian is rated incredibly highly by a lot of people and with Marko Marin having done nothing so far and Moses impressing only in bursts, some quality on the wings wouldn’t go amiss right now. I’m convinced De Bruyne is a talent worth holding on to but he’s been vocal about the fact he doesn’t want to be anything but a constant first teamer and is prepared to leave for a smaller club if we can’t offer that to him. I don’t believe personally the issue is as black and white for him as he makes out, but even if it is, I don’t think we’ll spend money on any wide players in the summer which would leave a hole in the squad I think he’d be quite capable of filling.
The last few months have been infuriating – full of inexcusable and embarrassing results and squad depth may well have something to do with that. But our young loanees are where they belong at the moment. Different solutions are needed.