About a year ago, we decided it would be fun to count down our Top 10 prospects as the calendar turned to 2013. One year later, Chelsea have stockpiled enough young talent that we've been forced to expand that list to 20.
Before we decided on a list for this year, we had to do the difficult task of defining what qualifies as a prospect. We settled on the following three requirements that a player needed to have in order to be eligible for this list:
- 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
Having decided on the parameters, it was time to undertake the difficult task of ranking our young prospects. This isn't a scientific process at all, it's simply a bunch of bloggers giving their thoughts about the kids coming through the Chelsea ranks. We tried to take a whole host of variables into account, looking at the level of competition these kids are currently facing, their performance at that level, how close to being ready for top flight football they are, and how their physical tools will translate as they progress.
We'll start our ranking with four prospects who provide an interesting mix. Here's the group we collectively decided on for our first post of this series:
Number 20, Josh McEachran
If we were making this list three years ago, McEachran may well have been viewed as Chelsea's top overall prospect. Now 20, McEachran has seen his stock fall considerably after a trio of loans with mixed results.
McEachran has always shown tremendous vision with the ball at his feet, and the ability to pick a defense apart with some tremendous quick passing from deep. Unfortunately, the rest of his game lags far behind his passing, and there's been very little improvement since he first left Chelsea on loan two years ago. Better competition has been able to expose many of the flaws in his game, and he doesn't have the sort of natural athleticism to cover for those deficiencies.
While Josh hasn't been earning rave reviews for his recent work, there is still plenty of reason to hold out hope that he can fulfill some of his massive promise. Players like McEachran tend to take longer to come good than physical marvels like Romelu Lukaku, and McEachran is still only 20 years old. A good loan spell this spring would be awfully nice though, as he did not do much to impress at Watford.
Number 19, Jeremie Boga
Boga is one of the most interesting players on this list, and the opinions on the attacking midfielder were all over the place. In the end, Boga wound up ranked number 19 due largely to the low level he's currently playing at.
Boga has spent this season playing U18, U19, and U21 football for Chelsea. He's possibly the most technically gifted players in the youth ranks of England, and was still only 16 years old as the calendar turned. He's not particularly big or strong, but his gifted with excellent balance and an explosive first step.
While it's easy to look at Boga and picture a future superstar, it's also easy enough to picture a player that may struggle to adapt to better competition. Better defenders will be quicker to react to his movement, and he'll need to be more precise to translate his success to higher levels. That's still likely a distant issue though, as Chelsea will likely be in little rush to find him a loan. He's still got plenty he can learn from facing U21 competition.
Number 18, Lewis Baker
Baker made his Chelsea senior debut this past week, earning a cameo appearance against Derby County. The midfielder is currently 18 years old, and has spent the season anchoring Chelsea's U19 and U21 sides.
Have you ever heard anyone referred to as a 'jack of all trades, master of none'? In my opinion, that almost perfectly describes the young midfielder. Baker is genuinely two footed, has good but not great physical tools, can play any midfield role, can play on either wing, and can even fill in as a fullback in a pinch. He's the sort of player that can fit into any squad, and managers taking the youngster on loan should have no problem finding a use for him.
Like Boga, Baker found his place near the bottom of the list mostly due to the competition he's currently facing. He's certainly ready for a loan though, and a good performance against senior competition could see him rocket up this list next season. WHat the club decide to do with him this month will be interesting, as there will most certainly be clubs interested in acquiring the midfielder's services.
Number 17, Patrick Bamford
We'll finish today's installment with one of the most in-form players in England. Patrick Bamford was a bit of a wildcard when we signed him from Nottingham Forest, but has been impossible to ignore with the form he's been in this season.
Two major factors combined to see Bamford this far down the list, despite the fact that he's been scoring for fun this season. League One is certainly better quality competition than the player would see at the U21 level, but it's still very weak compared to what the majority of Chelsea's loanees regularly face. Bamford's physical tools aren't exceptional either, and he'll be facing better athletes as he moves up the English ladder.
It's encouraging to see Bamford playing at such a consistently high level, and he's made himself a player we'd all love to see more of. While he was always less heralded than Islam Feruz while at the academy, he's quickly made sure that Chelsea fans everywhere know his name. Chelsea already made an aggressive decision with Patrick this spring, deciding to send him to a very good Derby County side. He'll have to impress in training to see meaningful minutes at Derby, but if he does, they'll come against far better quality competition than he's seen at MK Dons. A good run with Derby could see Bamford shooting up this list for next year.
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