Chelsea’s tradition of sending out a large number of players on loan has continued into the 2021/22 season - with 22 players spending the coming campaign at new temporary homes according to the Chelsea website.
This strategy has worked well for the club in the past - players can enjoy regular, first-team game time at their loan club, picking up valuable minutes in a challenging environment, before applying this experience on their return to Chelsea. In the starting 11 versus Brentford, Trevoh Chalobah, Andreas Christensen, Malang Sarr and Ruben Loftus-Cheek shared a total of 232 games on loan at different clubs, in addition to Mason Mount and Reece James off the bench, with a further 109 combined games.
Who in this season’s loan army crop have a serious chance of breaking into the Chelsea first-team in the coming years, and how are they faring at their new clubs so far?
Ethan Ampadu, still only 21, has had some back luck regarding loans in the previous two seasons - only picking up 277 minutes with Bundesliga side RB Leipzig in 2019/20, before being relegated with Sheffield United last season, albeit with over eight times the amount of minutes across all competitions. This season, the Welshman has joined newly-promoted Italian side Venezia FC, competing in Serie A for the first time since 2001.
After joining Venezia on deadline day, Ampadu wasn’t included in the squad for matchdays three, four or five, before coming off the bench for his debut versus Torino at home in a 1-1 draw.
With the Italian side alternating between a 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 setup under Paolo Zanetti, Ampadu was deployed in the midfield ‘pivot’ in the latter formation, tasked with a range of defensive and offensive work - breaking up opposition attacks before finding advanced wingers and attackers. Ampadu then started four days later in another 1-1 draw against Cagliari - with an average SofaScore rating of 6.85 across the two appearances.
On a more positive note, Ampadu has continued to perform in a young and exciting Wales team - playing the full 90 in the 0-0 draw with Estonia last month, completing 80 accurate passes, and winning nine out of a total of 13 duels.
With Venezia 19th after seven games, albeit with a game in hand, with only one win to their name, their primary aim this season will be to ensure survival in the league. Once Ampadu finds some rhythm in a regular position, he will hope to evidence his immense talent - especially given his versatility in a number of different roles, a trait Thomas Tuchel values in Chelsea’s 3-4-3 approach.
18-year-old Levi Colwill appears to be highly rated by those behind the scenes at Cobham - the decision to permanently offload both Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori this summer speaks volumes of the route envisaged into the first-team for Colwill, especially considering the seniority of Thiago Silva, and the uncertainty surrounding Antonio Rudiger’s future with the Blues.
Colwill has joined Huddersfield Town in his first loan spell away from the club - seemingly a great fit for the youngster; The Terriers use a 3-5-2 formation, allowing Colwill to slot into his favoured left centre-back role, and focus on ball progression and passing out from the back.
Colwill played the full 90 in eight of the opening nine league games, averaging a SofaScore rating of just over 7.2 - this included a last minute winner away at Sheffield United in August to secure the three points in a 1-2 win. After missing two games with a minor ankle injury, he was reintroduced into the side off the bench on the weekend at home to Hull City, with Huddersfield sitting 6th after 12 games.
Manager Carlos Corberan has been impressed by Colwill’s talent and application so far; “For me he’s showing he’s a player who is playing regularly and well in the Championship, and when a player is playing in the Championship it shows he has a high level to compete in different competitions … he has shown enough maturity to be in the first eleven of the team, and is helping the team in the first eleven”.
Colwill’s advanced statistics paint a picture of a powerful, modern, ball-playing centre-back; he has completed the fourth most dribbles for an u21 year-old in the league (11), as well as making the most clearances for a player in this age group (35), despite missing four games across all competitions. Still not 19 until next February, Colwill is an immense talent growing in stature, with a view to entering the Chelsea first-team in the coming years a real possibility.
21-year-old Conor Gallagher has joined Crystal Palace this season for his fourth loan spell, and second in the Premier League, after spending the last campaign with relegated West Brom. Palace have revitalized their team this season under Patrick Vieira by acquiring a number of talented young players, including Marc Guehi and Michael Olise, and Gallagher appears central to this strategy.
The midfielder missed the opener versus Chelsea due to ineligibility, but has been a stalwart in the Palace midfield since, missing just 19 minutes of the next six league games, playing alongside Cheikhou Kouyate and James McArthur in midfield.
Gallagher particularly caught the eye in the 2-2 away draw at West Ham, bagging a brace to secure The Eagles a point, as well as playing 25 of 26 accurate passes, winning 11/15 duels, and creating one big chance. Gallagher also picked up assists in games versus Tottenham and Kosovo u21, before scoring against Slovenia u21.
This form earned Gallagher the praise of Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher, with the ex-Liverpool defender saying, “He’s been one of the best players for Palace this season. We talk about certain types of midfielders, he seems to do a little bit of everything. He has so much energy getting into the box, he will score goals for Palace this season no doubt.”
With over 80 senior appearances to his name, as well as over 30 games for England’s youth sides, Gallagher has a huge future in the game, and can force himself into contention for Chelsea’s midfield if he continues his fine performances in South London.
After only playing just under 700 minutes for Chelsea last season, 20-year-old midfielder Billy Gilmour, highly regarded by the club and international coaches, has joined newly-promoted Norwich City ahead of the new season, in a bid to pick-up consistent first-team minutes, before reentering the Chelsea team next season with more experience and a view to becoming a regular starter.
Gilmour started three of the opening four league games, as the deepest ‘anchor’ in a midfield three. Despite Norwich sitting bottom of the table without a win, conceding 15 goals, the Scot has been a rare bright spark in the struggling team, impressing with his calmness on the ball and range of passing. In the 1-3 home defeat to Watford, Gilmour played three ‘key passes’, and evidenced his defensive strength by winning seven of 11 ground duels.
Gilmour has also continued to prove his quality with Scotland; in the 1-0 win over Moldova last month, the midfielder created one big chance, won four of six ground duels, and completed 89% of his passes.
After featuring as an unused sub in the last three league games, Chelsea may want to consider recalling Gilmour in January, similar to Gallagher’s terminated loan spell at Charlton in January 2020, with Norwich extremely likely to be relegated with a low tally of points, and Gilmour now seemingly outside of the starting XI.
Furthermore, Norwich boss Daniel Farke stated, “We are not here to develop players for other clubs” - a strange loan move on the surface, Gilmour may be better suited at a more competitive side where he is able to challenge in a league and play regularly, similar to Mason Mount’s spell at Vitesse in 2017/18.
20-year-old Albanian striker Armando Broja, who signed a long-term contract with the Blues in the summer, had a superb season last year at Vitesse, and will hope to continue this upward trajectory with his first Premier League loan with Southampton, linking up with ex-academy teammates Tino Livramento and Dynel Simeu.
Broja scored 10 and assisted two in the Eredivisie last season, averaging a goal contribution every 156 minutes, the best rate in the Vitesse squad, as the club finished 4th, their highest finish since 2013. With Saints top scorer Danny Ings joining Aston Villa, Broja has joined Ralph Hasenhüttl’s side hoping to inject much needed attacking impetus through goals and assists.
Broja appeared off the bench in his first four league appearances, totalling 83 minutes, before starting versus Leeds on the weekend. The Albanian scored his first ever Premier League goal in the 53rd minute with a right-footed finish, and also won six of nine aerial duels, acting as a focal point for Southampton in attack.
Broja also scored a brace in the 0-8 drubbing of Newport County in the Carabao Cup, as well as scoring a further two for his country in the international break. A pacy, direct and unpredictable attacker, Broja will hope to carve out a spot for himself in Southampton’s starting XI, before seeking to follow in the footsteps of Mason Mount and others in using his loan experience as a platform to convince those at Chelsea to give him a chance in the first-team squad.