There is a lingering sentiment amongst Vitesse supporters that Chelsea only sends them "leftovers." That is, some Vitesse fans have felt that Chelsea has not sent them the best possible young prospects over the years. While that was probably an accurate take on the situation just a few years ago, nothing could be further from the truth right now. In fact, Vitesse has become Chelsea's preferred loan destination for the club's most promising young players.
Aside from Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, and the recently-sold Kevin de Bruyne, Chelsea has given Vitesse virtually all of its best non-English youngsters. An Eredivisie club was never going to be an option for Courtois or Lukaku, what with Atletico Madrid and West Brom / Everton all too willing to give those players starring roles in their squads (in addition to paying their full wages on top of a significant loan fee).
Further, with regards to de Bruyne, Chelsea will record an £11m profit on the 2013-2014 FFP books resulting from his sale to Wolfsburg (assuming a £17m transfer fee), so it's very difficult to argue that Chelsea chose a poor loan destination for the dearly departed de Bruyne.
I used the caveat "non-English youngsters" because it is unlikely that Chelsea will ever send a highly-rated English prospect to Vitesse.* One of the primary benefits to working with Vitesse is the fact that Chelsea can send it's youngsters to Cobham East if said youngsters can't secure a work permit to train in England. It is extremely difficult for a player who is not from one of the European Union member states to secure an English work permit.
* Sam Hutchinson cannot reasonably be considered "highly-rated," and his loan situation was rather unique.
Since the primary goal with regards to youth development is to give the players the best possible opportunity to earn first team minutes at Stamford Bridge, it only makes sense to keep English players in England where they can continue to play English football. While there are admittedly some enormous benefits to playing in other countries, Chelsea very rarely sends its English players abroad, and outside of a Vitesse squad in the Champions League (which is a real possibility), I don't think the club will change course.
The KNVB (Dutch FA) and the UWV WERKbedrijf (the Dutch governmental agency that issues work permits) have far less stringent work permit requirements than the FA and Home Office. This is part of the reason why Chelsea chose to work with Vitesse in the first place, as securing Dutch work permits for Chelsea's youngsters has been (comparatively) very easy.
However, it should be noted that Lucas Piazon and Patrick van Aanholt are eligible to play in England (as was Tomas Kalas). Further, if Bertrand Traore hasn't already secured an English work permit, he will almost certainly be eligible for one very soon.
When you consider the list of top prospects and exclude Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, the players who have already played at Vitesse, and the English players for the reasons we just discussed, there remains seven top prospects for whom Vitesse might be a reasonable loan destination.
However, we could pare that number down even further, since Vitesse already has three Chelsea attacking midfielders and Thorgan Hazard would either take minutes away from his Chelsea colleagues or languish on the bench. As such, it wouldn't make sense to send him to Vitesse.
Similarly, Kenneth Omeruo would have been competing directly with Tomas Kalas last season, since he certainly wasn't going to displace Vitesse captain Guram Kashia at centre-back. Considering Omeruo spent last season at another Eredivisie side, ADO Den Haag, Chelsea almost certainly would have sent him to Vitesse (where they could have considerably more control over his development) had there been room for him in the squad.
Andreas Christensen is only seventeen years old and needs to sign his first professional contract before thinking about a loan. Christensen is also a centre-back and he wouldn't have played any serious minutes at Vitesse this season.
So, essentially, there are four top prospects for whom Vitesse is a reasonable loan destination, and they are all currently wearing the black and yellow. This is a far cry from the Uli Davila's, Matej Delac's, and other fringe prospects Chelsea has sent to Vitesse in years past.
The increasing quality of loanees is a testament to the trust Chelsea places in Vitesse with regards to player development. This trust has been earned by the Arnhem club over the past few years through how they have helped our youngsters improve.
Chelsea is clearly pleased with how Patrick van Aanholt has developed into what Steve calls a "very well rounded player." In addition, Chelsea sent a talented, but raw centre-back in Tomas Kalas to Vitesse last season, and Vitesse sent Chelsea back a more technically proficient player who has developed into an Ivanovician hybrid in that he can play centre-back as well as right back.
With regards to this year's crop, Lucas Piazon has blossomed into one of the best (if not the best) players in the Eredivisie under manager Peter Bosz and Christian Atsu has made a seamless transition from his natural position on the left to a more central number ten role. The previously-mentioned Patrick van Aanholt also earned his first senior international cap for the Netherlands this season.
The relationship between the clubs is only getting stronger, and I would expect this trend of Chelsea entrusting Vitesse with its best young players to continue, especially if Vitesse earns a spot in the Champions League next season.
With that, let's take a closer look at Steve's reports on each of the top Chelsea loanees at Vitesse (the number corresponds with where the player ranks on the overall list of top twenty prospects).*
*Cristian Cuevas has been training with the reserves and given that he did not attend winter training in Abu Dhabi, he is unlikely to be in Vitesse's first team plans for the second half of the season.
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 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.
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 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.