Nathan Aké wasn't the first nor the last Chelsea loanee to be recalled by the club from a loan halfway through the season, but he could very well be the first to be recalled back into the Chelsea first-team, rather than sent on his way somewhere else. Hopefully he won't be the last.
While the decision raised a few eyebrows at the time — why recall when he's so important to Bournemouth? — the 21-year-old's performance in his first start since his return on Saturday justified the decision. Aké started as the left wing-back then switched to center back while looking more and more comfortable with the team and his role. That versatility has always been one of Aké's greatest assets and should serve him well going forward.
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte urged the youngsters and fringe players to seize their chance in this game and he was no doubt pleased with Aké's contributions. Meanwhile, elder statesman Cesc Fàbregas added to the praise rather lavishly.
"Fantastic by Ake. Since I have been here he has trained with the team in pre-season and I have always felt that he is a fantastic young player. It is great that all of the young players showed what they can do in games like this and also winning which is important for getting the confidence because it is not easy. We are only playing in the Premier League and the FA Cup so it is not easy to have minutes in this team but it was good that a lot of them could have minutes in this game and show the manager what can happen if he needs them."
-Cesc Fàbregas; source: Chelsea FC
Ake himself wants to use this game as the springboard into a regular spot, just like he won his starting spots at Watford (as a left back) and Bournemouth (as a center back) over the past season and a half.
"I've developed more as a player [...] I've gained a lot of experience the past two years and played a lot of games. I feel maybe a bit more experienced – not too much, but more than I was before."
"On the first day I was back, [Antonio Conte] called me into his office and explained the different positions he sees me in and what he expects from me when I play those positions."
"For him, age doesn't matter. I just have to show him I'm ready to be here and that's what I try to do in training. It was positive that he called me back and it gave me a lot of confidence."
-Nathan Aké; source: Chelsea FC
This was Aké's 13th appearance for Chelsea but the first since the end of the 2014-15 season. May there be many more to come!