Chelsea fans should be watching Patrick van Aanholt closely this season

Dean Mouhtaropoulos - Getty Images

With Ashley Cole in the last year of this contract and Ryan Bertrand looking capable of replacing him, Patrick van Aanholt could be faced with a golden opportunity.

Ashley Cole is in the last year of his Chelsea contract, and many media outlets have been reporting that discussions towards a new contract aren't going so well. Ryan Bertrand has been looking very good when he gets on the pitch at Chelsea, so much so that he's been getting regular call-ups to the England team as they attempt to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. In the event that Ashley Cole and Chelsea can't reach a new agreement, Bertrand would seem the natural successor to Ashley Cole at left back.

While it would be great to see a Chelsea academy product step into the regular starting eleven, it would leave an important opening on the Chelsea depth chart that needs to be filled. Bertrand is the second choice left back, but he provides the squad more than just that. He's a naturally wide player, and can offer the club defensive cover from a more advanced area of the pitch. If he becomes the regular starter, Chelsea lose that asset on their bench.

Enter Patrick van Aanholt. Van Aanholt is young, but at 22 he's not so young that he needs to play every game in order to continue his development. After an extremely impressive second half loan spell with Leichester City two seasons ago, PvA struggled to get on the pitch at Wigan Athletic. He was sent to Vitesse for the spring of 2012, but unfortunately saw only part time action as he was competing for playing time with Alexander Butner*.

*Now with Manchester United

Vitesse realized what they had in van Aanholt, and his presence on the roster made the Vitesse decision to sell Butner this summer an easy one. Since the sale, PvA has been the unquestioned starter at left back, and Vitesse have been flourishing. The Eredivisie club currently sit third in the table, and they are level on points with second place PSV.

Backup fullbacks generally aren't required to play all that much, and during the FFP era a club like Chelsea aren't likely to want to spend big on player to fill that role. It's a great position for a young academy product looking to break into the squad to be in, as Ryan Bertrand would certainly be able to attest to.

Like Bertrand, PvA brings natural width when he's on the pitch. He's known for his offensive prowess, so being placed on the left wing and asked to help cover the left flank should be a second role he'd slot into with ease. He's probably a better attacker than Bertrand already, so he and Bertrand would seem a slightly more natural pairing on the left than Bertrand and Cole.

The young Dutch fullback is not Chelsea's most heralded prospect out on loan, but he's one with a very clear path to the first team in the very near future. Regardless of whether of not Ashley Cole and Chelsea come to an agreement, PvA should have a reasonable chance to find a role with the club in the very near future. All he needs to do is continue his excellent work in the Netherlands, and he'll likely get a long, hard look for a role with the first team. Keeping that in mind, we should really be watching van Aanholt closely this season. He's a potential solution to replacing Ryan Bertrand should Bert be called on to replace Ashley Cole, he's homegrown, club-trained and he's under contract until 2015.

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