When Thomas Tuchel was hired he was met with pretty much universal approval. All but a small minority of Chelsea fans felt that it was the right decision to sack club legend Frank Lampard, who clearly was out of his depth. Hiring a manager of Tuchel’s tactical pedigree was seen as the smart decision by the club.
The only real concern was how Tuchel would use the academy. One of the primary reasons for hiring Lampard was his connection to the club’s youth system along with assistant Jody Morris. Lampard handed out a number of debuts and it was under him that the likes of Reece James, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham became key first-team fixtures. Tuchel had some history of bringing through young players, but not an extensive history.
However there can be no complaints of his use of the academy so far and on Saturday during the 3-1 win over Southampton three different graduates started. With James injured and Mount only fit enough for the bench it was Trevoh Chalobah, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek who represented the youth system, and all played their part.
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LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Ruben Loftus-Cheek of Chelsea in action with James Ward-Prowse of Southampton during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 02, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Ge

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Of the three it was the latter who stood out the most. He made an impression on everyone who watched him including former Arsenal striker Ian Wright, who had this to say about him on Match of the Day.
“The power, the skill, he’s got everything. People say he hasn’t got the energy – look at him now, this is scary.
“Ruben Loftus-Cheek looks to me like he’s got the fire in his belly back. He’s dangerous.”
Wright had said earlier that after Loftus-Cheek’s devastating ruptured achilles injury, which cost him over nine months out injured, he “didn’t think we’d ever see him go back to this kind of form.”
Wright has a point. The loan spell to Fulham was not a successful one. There were flashes of course but he couldn’t be a difference maker on a consistent basis. After returning to Cobham over the summer at the age of 25 he seemed destined for a loan move away to regain his fitness. Former bosses Jose Mourinho and Maurizio Sarri reportedly both wanted to bring him to the Italian capital.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Ruben Loftus-Cheek of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 2, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)

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But Tuchel had already raised eyebrows late in April when he compared Loftus-Cheek to former Chelsea and Germany midfielder Michael Ballack. Then reports came out over the summer that the England international had really impressed Tuchel with his work-rate and attitude. It’s tough to hear for Fulham fans, who were so frustrated by him, but the loan move was more about getting his own rhythm back than helping them stay up. A brutal and unfair reality.
Cameos against Manchester City and Juventus could not stem the tides of defeat but he did more than enough to earn the start against Southampton and justified his inclusion. As Wright alluded to he is a unique player, a true footballing unicorn. You just don’t see someone with his technical ability combined with that sort of physicality.
Loftus-Cheek’s effortless glide is so useful in a midfield too because he easily takes one opponent out of the equation. That can help a lot when teams try to isolate the Chelsea midfield. He clearly has put the time in to work on the defensive side of his game as well. Plus it certainly doesn’t hurt that if needed he can be used as one of the two behind the striker.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Ruben Loftus-Cheek of Chelsea in action with Nathan Tella of Southampton during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 02, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty I

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If he can put together a consistent season it will be a huge boost for Tuchel, who had to bring in Saul Niguez in a late deadline day move to bolster his midfield options. A penny for the thoughts of the Spaniard right now…
A word too on Chalobah, who was a close second to Loftus-Cheek in the academy sweepstakes. Whilst Hudson-Odoi flickered Chalobah sparkled, getting his second senior goal for the club as well as putting in an excellent defensive performance. He made five tackles, two interceptions and, perhaps most crucially of all, he didn’t get dribbled past once.
Chelsea clearly wanted Jules Kounde last summer, they even sold Fikayo Tomori to AC Milan in order to fund the move, but they couldn’t make it work with Sevilla. Chalobah came in from a season spent on loan with FC Lorient in France. Like Loftus-Cheek he impressed Tuchel enough that Chelsea turned down moves, with Spanish side Valencia reportedly interested.
Chelsea might still need Kounde, as both Thiago Silva and Antonio Rudiger will be out of contract come the end of the season, but complementing him with Chalobah will be huge for the team moving forward. It’s early days but so far Tuchel appears to have struck a nice balance between big signings and academy players.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Trevoh Chalobah of Chelsea celebrates after scoring their side's first goal during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Southampton at Stamford Bridge on October 02, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Lee - Chel

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It’s unrealistic for a club like Chelsea to solely rely on the academy, the hallmark of a great team is one that blends them together. It’s what Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United did so well during their dominant years. With James, Chalobah, Loftus-Cheek, Mount and Hudson-Odoi there is a good core of academy players to go along with the lavish signings. There could be more too, with one or both of Conor Gallagher and Billy Gilmour poised to come back into the first-team set-up next season.
After so many years of trying it feels as if Chelsea might finally have gotten it right with their academy, plus with the appointment of Tuchel they have shown what a great motivator can do when it comes to rebuilding players. There was even an impressive cameo from forgotten man Ross Barkley against the Saints. Maybe we’ll see Danny Drinkwater ripping it up next season at the Bridge? No? Perhaps even that is beyond Tuchel’s powers…
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