We began our annual exercise of ranking Chelsea's top prospects yesterday, looking at Josh McEachran, Jeremie Boga, Lewis Baker, and Patrick Bamford. Today we're looking at the next four names on our list, the players that wound up ranked 13-16.
Yesterday we mentioned the criteria we decided on for a youngster to be classified as a prospect, with three requirements needing to be satisfied. Those requirements:
- The player must be under the age of 23 on the first day of the 2013/14 Premier League season
- The player must have made less than 10 career starts for Chelsea on January 1, 2014, not including friendlies
- The player may not have occupied an FA roster spot with Chelsea for any period after he's no longer considered a U21
With that in mind, here are the next four prospects in our 2014 list:
Number 16, Todd Kane
Todd Kane is one that most fans that have been following the youth ranks for several years will already be aware of. He was not one of the flashier players at Cobham, but he was one of Chelsea steadiest performers for quite a few quality youth sides. He started his loan adventures just over a year ago, and after a short spell at Preston North End, he settled into a regular starting role at Blackburn.
Kane performed fairly well for the bulk of his time in the Championship, though he's fallen out of favor and been on the bench of late. Now 20, one has to wonder if we'll be hearing talk of a recall soon. If Kane isn't getting regular starts while on loan at Blackburn, there is very little chance that he'll see the pitch at all.
Kane has all the physical tools to be a quality right back at the Premier League level, and he could probably find a backup role at many Premier League clubs right now. He's not an overly versatile player though, and if he's not seeing time at fullback, he's probably going to be getting the Ryan Bertrand treatment with whatever club he's at. Hopefully he continues to develop and can eventually fill that role for Chelsea, or better yet, see regular starts.
Number 15, Wallace
It's back to back right backs here, and frankly, you could probably switch the order without generating too many complaints. Where Kane is a known commodity at this point, Wallace is probably a bit of an unknown to many due to being buried in a far better league.
The Brazilian completed his move to Chelsea this summer, and decided on an extremely aggressive loan to Inter Milan. Chelsea were pushing the player to join several of his teammates at Vitesse Arnhem, but his agent managed to force through the move he wanted, which has turned into an absolute disaster.
Wallace is a fairly dynamic, aggressive player, who started out as a winger in the youth ranks at Fluminense. He eventually moved into an attacking fullback role for the Brazilian side, and was earning respectable amounts of minutes there (and playing pretty well) before his Chelsea transfer was finalized. He was quite impressive during Chelsea's preseason tour of Asia as well, though the competition there left an awful lot to be desired.
It looks as if Wallace will be spending the rest of the season buried at Inter, before heading somewhere else on loan for the 2014/15 season. Unfortunately that means we likely won't see much of the young fullback before the summer, and he'll still remain a bit of an enigma to most.
Number 14, Nathan Ake
Ake is one that most here are familiar with, having made several appearances for the Chelsea first team during the stretch run last season. Ake didn't do anything overly impressive during those outings, though he certainly didn't actively hurt the club either. That's more than can be said for the vast majority of 18-year old debutantes, and has many fans wishing they could see a bit more of him this season.
It was a bit of a surprise this year when Chelsea decided not to send Ake on loan, instead keeping him at Cobham to train with the U21 side. The decision made sense at some levels though, as he'll now be considered club trained by UEFA standards at the end of this season. The level of competition he's currently facing isn't the most challenging, but he's continued to impress and will almost certainly be looking at a higher level of competition next season.
Ake would probably be higher on this list without some potential limitations, or if we were seeing him consistently playing against better competition. He's probably not a good enough athlete to be an elite fullback at the Premier League level, and is certainly on the smaller side for a center back at a top club. That's not to say he won't eventually be able to play either of those roles at Chelsea, but I'd have to think his best opportunity here is in a John Obi Mikel-esque midfield role. It will also be interesting to see how he performs over a full season of higher quality competition, as he's a player who currently reads the game at a much higher level than most U21 players.
Number 13, Christian Atsu
Many fans were certainly confused when the club made this move over the summer, as Chelsea already had an embarrassment of riches in the advanced midfield positions. The Ghanaian had already been capped for his national side and was getting semi-regular minutes at Porto, but still seemed to be a luxury buy that Chelsea could have easily lived without.
It was perhaps even more confusing when the club decided to send him to Vitesse on loan, as the Eredivisie club already had a number of options in the wide areas of the pitch. Apparently this wasn't an issue though, as Atsu quickly slotted into the starting XI in more of a central midfield role.
After a few early starts with somewhat mixed results, Atsu has begun to look fantastic in his new position. He's a dynamic passer that's been excellent with the ball at his feet, and his work rate has been a massive plus. He's also become Vitesse's primary set piece taker, which is quite impressive considering that Lucas Piazon is no slouch.
Defensively though, Atsu still looks very raw. The effort is certainly there, but he's not particularly big or strong and not overly useful in winning back possession. Hopefully that improves over time, as right now that's one of the few warts he's shown.
The main reason Atsu isn't a bit higher on this list is his age, as he turned 22 earlier this week. He's not that far from being ready for a spell at top league, but he won't have the luxury of several less aggressive loan spells before testing himself at that level either. It will be interesting to see what Chelsea decide to do with Atsu this summer, though that may depend largely on whether or not Vitesse qualify for the Champions League.