Chelsea's first involvement in the NextGen Series came to a disappointing end on Monday, but it gave most fans a great opportunity to see (at least) a pair of games from our U19 players. I got to see both games from Como, and have a few thoughts that I'd like to share:
Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Andreas Christensen are worth watching
There were quite a few players that impressed with their skill, and several who had considerably more impact on this tournament than this pair. Still, it's hard not to be impressed with the overall combination of size, athleticism, skill and composure that we saw out of RLC and Andreas Christensen this weekend. They both look to have all of the physical tools to succeed at a much higher level, and they look to have plenty of technical ability as well. They're probably the two from this squad that I'll be watching most closely going forward, as they both appear to be very complete young players.
Alex Kiwomya is still very raw, but may need to play against older competition anyway
Kiwomya has elite physical tools, and has been on an excellent run of form of late. Sometimes players like that can become too reliant on those tools to dominate their competition at a young age (see Lukaku, Romelu), to the point that it hurts their technical development. Kiwomya still needs loads of work on his crossing, first touch, and overall speed of decision making, so Chelsea would do well to make sure he ends up somewhere that he can work on these things next season. While he might not be ready to excel on loan, forcing him to adapt to tougher competition is probably in his best interest anyway.
People need to back off the Jeremie Boga hype for the moment
I like Boga, and I think he's going to be an excellent player. That said, he's a technically gifted player that is excelling against pretty low-level competition at the moment. He's got the tools, but you can still see him struggling to find space occasionally when the defense gets compact. To make use of his skills at higher levels, he's going to need to read the game faster and move better without the ball. There's no reason to think that won't come, but it's going to take some time. He's certainly one to watch, but let's temper our expectation a bit.
It's probably time to send Lewis Baker out on loan
Baker had plenty of finishing issues on Monday, but in general he had an excellent tournament. He reads the game well, is very composed, and has shown that he's comfortable in any number of roles. Frankly, he's just not going to get much more out of playing at the U18, U19, or U21 level. He's one that is probably ready for a bench appearance with the Chelsea first team if we have some less meaningful games, and should certainly be playing first team football somewhere next fall. There are plenty of clubs out there where he'd start regularly.
The organizers need to find a better venue for this event next season
I'm sure that Como was a fantastic town, and that the kids had a lovely experience. That said, the pitch was just awful. We lost a player due to the horrendous condition of the field, and a bad hop in front of Arsenal's young keeper may well have changed the outcome of one of the matches. If they want to showcase the best young talent in Europe, at least give them a decent field to do it on.
All in all, our involvement in the NextGen Series looks to have been a great idea for the club. We got to play some additional games against some of the best young talent in Europe, and made a nice run all the way to the final. Monday was disappointing, but it's hard to imagine that the experience won't be great for most of these kids in the long run. I'm looking forward to next season's event already.