It has been a pretty disappointing season for many of Chelsea's young stars away on loan, with quite a few given aggressive assignments where they've been failing to impress. 19-year old Bertrand Traore, however, returned to Vitesse Arnhem for a second spell, and has been absolutely sensational thus far this season.
Traore started the campaign in the same right wing role which he played for the bulk of last spring, but as the season has progressed, coach Peter Bosz has been using the teenager to spearhead his attack. The youngster was recently asked about the switch, which has seen his goal scoring numbers increase dramatically:
"It surprised me that I am doing so well as a center striker. Actually In the past, I've played mostly on the flanks. Last year it was not great when the coach used me [centrally] for a few games in a pinch."
Traore was also asked about the situation at Chelsea, where he'd be competing with players like Eden Hazard, Willian, and Juan Cuadrado for minutes if he remains with the Blues next season:
"I'm always ready for Chelsea when I am needed there. I'm ready for that challenge. I can compete with these players. For me, it's all about confidence, which I have. I work hard and do and everything to get there."
The teenager has been a regular with the Burkina Faso national team over the past several seasons, and should meet the new requirements to be automatically granted a work permit in England this summer. Jose Mourinho would have reportedly preferred to keep the player in London this season had he qualified anyway, so it would be unsurprising to see the player remaining with the first team next season.
With that in mind, the experience Traore is getting this season in the Netherlands could be vital to his chances of success at Chelsea. It's no secret that Mourinho prefers a smaller squad, in which the bench players tend to be versatile options that can play many different roles. Traore's new-found ability to play either on the flank or centrally will certainly be appealing to the manager, especially given that Traore would offer a different sort of skill set up top to that of Diego Costa.
Traore is also rounding into form at a very fortuitous time, as Chelsea's need for depth in the positions he has been playing could be a concern for the club this summer. By shipping out both Andre Schurrle and Mohamed Salah during the January transfer window, the Blues left themselves a bit thin on the right. That said, with Marco Reus continuing to be plagued by injuries and having signed a new Borussia Dortmund contract, I'm not sure there's anyone expected to be available that would really push the incumbents for minutes*.
In this sense, Traore could find himself in a very similar position to that of Kurt Zouma, with a spot on the roster, and an opportunity to earn minutes by impressing when given the opportunity. Mourinho has confirmed this week that Zouma started the season as the fourth choice center back, behind Gary Cahill, John Terry, and right back Branislav Ivanovic. Presumably, Mourinho would have simply moved Ivanovic centrally, Cesar Azpilicueta to the right, and slotted in Filipe Luis should either Cahill or Terry be injured. That plan has obviously changed due to Happy's performances when called upon.
With the right flank, Mourinho certainly has the ability to include Traore in the squad, while having the same sort of options for cover should he fail to impress. Willian has proven more than adequate when deployed on the right, while Juan Cuadrado will likely be the main challenger for minutes. Ramires is also quite capable of playing wide, even if his deployment there doesn't typically excite the fanbase.
Bertrand's new-found success in the center of the pitch should also help him in this regard, as Mourinho doesn't have a clear second choice player at this moment, instead looking at his opponents when choosing between Dider Drogba and Loic Remy. Traore is far more similar in terms of style to the latter, and with Remy being somewhat unimpressive in his limited appearances thus far, there could be a backup role there to be claimed, in addition to minutes on the flank.
Breaking into Jose Mourinho's rotation will still be a tall task for any of Chelsea's youngsters, but Traore should find himself with a very good opportunity to do just that. Here's hoping he does.