We began our annual exercise of ranking the top prospects at Chelsea earlier this week, and have had four installments thus far. Today we're going to take a look at who we felt were the top four prospects in the Chelsea system for 2014.
As mentioned several times previously, this isn't a scientific process at all, Most of the staff simply chimed in with their feedback, and we've compiled a ranking based of that.. 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 top four prospects in our 2014 list:
Number 4, Marco van Ginkel
The Dutch midfielder joined Chelsea just this past summer from Vitesse Arnhem, and probably wouldn't have been eligible for this list if not for a torn ACL very early in his Chelsea career. We took a closer look at what Marco brings to the table when he was first linked to Chelsea, and he hasn't been on the pitch enough to have shown anything to change our opinions.
Unfortunately for Van Ginkel, serious ACL injuries take an awfully long time to fully recover from, often taking as much as a season and a half for the player to return to top form. The injury has almost certainly cost him any chance he had at a World Cup appearance, and might make a loan next season something the club has to seriously consider.
Number 3, Lucas Piazon
Nobody has seen their stock climb higher this season than 19-year old Lucas Piazon, as the club were less aggressive than they were with his first loan assignment. He's responded to his Vitesse Arnhem loan with some absolutely ridiculous performances.
You'd be hard pressed to find Eredivisie fans who'd disagree with calling Piazon the best player in the league this season, as he's been fantastic from the moment he arrived. The Brazilian has been playing primarily on the left, and has already scored 11 times while assisting eight others. More impressive though has been his work when Vitesse are not in possession, as he's been showing a fantastic defensive workrate that we've never really seen from him before. I hate to compare him to his Brazilian teammate, but he's really looked an awful lot like Oscar in the way he's been playing this season.
If Piazon continues to play as well as he has so far this season, Chelsea could have a real dilemma to deal with this summer. Piazon appears to be ready for regular top flight football, and would probably see semi-regular minutes at quite a few of Europe's better clubs. He's developing into the type of player that Jose Mourinho seems to adore, and it's not out of the question to believe he could stay with the first team sooner rather than later.
Number 2, Romelu Lukaku
Many fans are disappointed that Lukaku has returned to this list, as most were hoping to see him spearheading the Chelsea attack this season. The club and player decided on a deadline day loan though, and Lukaku has been looking solid for Everton all season.
The Belgian left Chelsea in order to get the regular minutes required to continue his development, and he's been showing positive signs in that regard this season. He's looked more comfortable with the ball at his feet than he did last year at West Brom, and his finishing has generally looked better as well. So far this season, Lukaku has scored nine times while recording assists on four others.
The 20-year old has shown progress in other areas as well. He's looked more dangerous in the air, his holdup play has improved, and he's generally picking out better passes than he has in the past. The big guy could still use some work on that last bit though, as he could with staying onside.
One of Lukaku's primary reasons for leaving seemed to be securing playing time ahead of this summer's World Cup. He'll almost certainly be staying with Chelsea next season, and will likely be joined by another marquee center forward. That sounds like an awful lot of fun to me.
Number 1, Thibaut Courtois
This was probably the easiest decision of this entire list. Courtois is already one of the elite goalkeepers on the planet, and he's quite possibly an upgrade to Petr Cech at this point. We're expecting some sort of clarity into what his future holds this spring, but it's hard to imagine he won't be between the sticks at Stamford Bridge soon.