We began our annual exercise of ranking Chelsea's top prospects two days ago, looking at Josh McEachran, Jeremie Boga, Lewis Baker, and Patrick Bamford. Yesterday we moved on to Todd Kane, Wallace, Nathan Ake, and Christian Atsu.
Before we started this exercise, we needed to settle on the criteria we decided on for a youngster to be classified as a prospect. We came up with a trio of requirements which needed to be met. Those requirements are:
- 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 12, Andreas Christensen
Christensen is one of the younger players on this list, being only 17 years old at the time of this writing. The Dane has been with the club since 2012 now, playing both right back and center back comfortably, while also being capable of slotting into the midfield.
Christensen debuted with the U18 side shortly after his move to Chelsea, but only played a half dozen games at that level before becoming a core member of the U21 side. Andreas traveled with the club on several occasions last season, and even made the first team bench against Everton (he wasn't used). Chelsea fans eventually got to see him with the senior side during the post-season tour of the US, and he caught the eye of many with some decent performances in those games.
Christensen has been one of the most impressive performers in the youth ranks this season, looking like a player that's miles ahead of the rest of the league in both his positioning and decision making. He's also got enough size and athleticism that it's easy to see him sticking at either center back or fullback at a high level, making him a safer projection than a guy like Nathan Ake.
What Chelsea do with Christensen going forward will be interesting. The player would probably be best served by a loan at some point, as he's quickly developing beyond the point where the U21 level will do him much good. Keeping him at Cobham also has it's perks though, as doing so for the next 18 months would allow the player to be considered 'club trained'. That probably won't end up being too big a deal, but it's worth considering.
Number 11, Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Like yesterday, the first two players in today's post could very easily be flipped. Loftus-Cheek will turn 18 later on this month, and made his debut with the U18 side while Carlo Ancelotti was still in charge. He spent most of the 2011/12 and 2012/13 season with the U18 side, but made fairly regular appearances for the U21 side as well. This season has seen him playing primarily with the U21 group, though he's also been participating in the European campaign.
Like Christensen, Ruben was given a chance to play with the first team in the USA. Also like Christensen, most fans came away thinking we had something special for the future with him.
Chelsea have an impressive trio of midfielders at the U21 level this year, but Ruben has the best combination of size and athleticism of the three. He's probably the best defensively of the bunch, while still offering a decent amount of offensive upside. Combined with being the youngest of that trio, this has led to Loftus-Cheek being the highest ranked player on this year's list that isn't currently out on loan or training with the first team.
What Chelsea decide to do with the player now will certainly be interesting. He's definitely ready for a loan spell somewhere, and he's already been at Chelsea for the three years required for him to eventually qualify as homegrown. He's on a very high wage for a young player though, so the club will definitely need to subsidize his wages in order to find a taker. Some talk of a January loan wouldn't shock me, but I'd probably expect to see him remain with Chelsea this spring before heading out on loan over the summer.
Number 10, Bertrand Traore
Traore was easily the hardest Chelsea youngster to rank, as there has been very little footage available of him in action. The 18-year old was originally linked to Chelsea at the age of 15, and has had several trials with the club since that time. He impressed enough that the club made sure he'd be joining as soon as he turned 18, going so far as to bring him on the preseason tour of Asia with the squad this summer.
After signing for Chelsea in January, Chelsea immediately loaned him to Vitesse Arnhem. The move displaced Gael Kakuta, who was recalled when the loan became official. He's been playing on the right wing now that Vitesse have resumed training, and he's been very impressive in their friendlies.
Traore has excellent size and athleticism, and the little we've seen of him suggests that he's a very technically gifted player as well. He's been featuring regularly for his national team, so a good spring with Vitesse could see him granted a work permit this summer. Regardless, I'll feel a lot more comfortable with wherever he ends up ranked next year than I do today, as we just haven't seen enough of the kid to call this ranking anything other than educated guesswork.
Number 9, Patrick van Aanholt
We'll finish today with the oldest player to make this season's list, having turned 23 just after the start of this season. There's not a whole lot of development left with Van Aanholt, the questions surrounding him have more to do with how he'll fare against better quality competition.
Patrick has spent the past two years on loan at Vitesse, and has developed from a very attack minded fullback into a very well rounded player. He was probably the best overall left back in the Eredivisie last season, and has done nothing to suggest that it was a fluke with his play this year.
Where that leaves Van Aanholt with Chelsea is a bit less clear. As good as he's been for Vitesse, it's hard to argue that Chelsea couldn't find a better, younger option if they were willing to spend a decent sum. He's very possibly an upgrade to Ryan Bertrand right now though, and should certainly be someone we consider as we prepare for next season.
Patrick's contract is set to expire at the end of next season, so we'll likely have a clear idea of what the future holds for him soon. Chelsea were reportedly ready to sell the player this past summer, so it's certainly not unthinkable that he'll end up being sold.