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Where will Chalobah play next year?

Stanley Chou

Where will Nathaniel Chalobah play next season? There are two questions buried in there, one more obvious than the other -- which team will he be playing for, and in which position? The second is, at present, more interesting. In the two preseason friendlies to date, Chalobah's been in central defence, partnering Gary Cahill against the Singha All-Stars before getting the start alongside John Terry in the 4-1 win against the Malaysia XI on Sunday.

Is this an indication that Jose Mourinho sees his future in central defence? After all, before last season, in which he played in Watford's midfield, that was his natural home, and there's been some question over where he'll end up long-term despite his superb display for the Hornets. It's not at all unreasonable that the manager would want to play him in a back four -- he's athletic, fast and intelligent, with all the tools to succeed as a central defender.

But we shouldn't take 90 minutes of football as evidence that Mourinho's considering a permanent positional change for the youngster. This is especially true when you consider Chelsea's current options in the back line. Neither Cesar Azpilicueta nor David Luiz have hooked up with the squad yet, and that leaves the blues short-handed if they want to play two right backs and four centre backs every game.

Branislav Ivanovic and Wallace are the right back options, but that means that Ivanovic can't cover in the centre, leaving Gary Cahill, Tomas Kalas and John Terry as the only natural centre backs on offer in the touring squad. Chalobah has been slotted in there, but it could easily be out of necessity rather than out of desire, and it's certainly nothing that should make us think he's being re-converted into a centre back.

But his position next season might depend on where he ends up. Chalobah's performances last season should mean that he'll top-level clubs lining up to take him on loan, and they won't all have the same squad composition. Some will need help at the back, some in the midfield. I'd have to imagine that more clubs see him as a midfielder than a defender, just because more have watched him with Watford than with the Chelsea youth teams, so we're probably a little biased in that direction.

As to where he goes on loan, I think we're probably looking at a mid-table Premier League side that doesn't want to spend too much but needs some help to avoid relegation. Fulham and Aston Villa might both be good shouts in that regard, and Chalobah seems to me to be ready to contribute at that sort of level. That said, it shouldn't be out of the question that he stays at Stamford Bridge either -- we're very light in midfield at the moment -- and I wouldn't be tremendously shocked (although I'd be a bit surprised) if he stays with the club.

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