Chelsea Youngsters Who Could Break Through Next Season
Chelsea have been struggling to find a new star from their youth development ranks ever since John Terry became a mainstay of the side.
While players such as Ryan Bertrand and Fabio Borini have had either measured success at Stamford Bridge, or hit greater heights away from there—the Blues are still looking for a real breakthrough.
But the massed ranks of on-loan and Under-21 stars at the club mean the next season is almost certain to see one or more youngsters hit the big time.
Time to take a quick look at who those new faces might be...
When one talks of breakthroughs, the first thought is often of an unknown ascending to top ranks.
Thus, many will not consider any advance by Thibaut Courtois to be any sort of breakthrough.
Having developed a reputation as one of the world's best young keepers over three seasons at Atletico Madrid, the 21-year-old is probably the most talked-about Blue yet to wear the shirt.
But 2014-15 looks very much like being the season when he makes the ultimate breakthrough—to the status of being a Chelsea first-team regular.
The expectation is that the Belgian international will be Stamford Bridge-bound this summer—to finally duke it out with Petr Cech for the No. 1 shirt.
Chelsea will not have seen a contest like it since a then-22-year-old Cech arrived in London to wrestle the shirt of Carlo Cudicini.
The degree to which Romelu Lukaku has already broken through in the Premier League means little to Chelsea—a side where even a £50m striker is considered to be down the pecking order.
The 20-year-old has a remarkable 27 Premier League goals in 38 appearances—all while on Chelsea's books.
Of course, those came while on loan at West Brom and Everton—but there is a real clamour to see what the huge Belgian could do if brought back to his parent club.
This summer looks like being a major time of change for Chelsea's attacking options, with Fernando Torres down to the last two years of his contract, Samuel Eto'o only on a one-year deal and Demba Ba already having come close to leaving the club.
Could it be time for Chelsea's most prolific striker of recent years to come back and start scoring his first goals for the club?
Bucking the standard Chelsea development trend of hopping on the loan bus to Vitesse Arnhem, Nathan Ake has stayed put at Cobham this season.
By doing that he has sacrificed regular football, but there is a reason behind this which explains how highly he is rated at Chelsea.
Mistakes made in sending out other players immediately prior to qualification as 'home grown' (notably Lucas Piazon) have been recognised in Ake's case—meaning he will finally qualify with that status over the summer.
Incredibly mature for his 19 years—both mentally and physically—Ake also possesses a sound footballing brain.
The young Dutchman can play pretty much anywhere along the back line and also excels in holding midfield.
A season on loan, where he can really start to shine, beckons.
Expectations of Patrick Bamford's breakthrough will not come as a surprise to supporters of MK Dons or Derby County.
The 20-year-old from Garntham is bit by bit chiseling out a reputation as an instinctive goalscorer with real potential.
Scoring 18 in 33 while with the League One club and so far five in six games with The Rams in The Championship—he is climbing the ladder.
Talk of him becoming a Chelsea regular at this stage seems very far-fetched. But there is a very good chance of him being a part of any touring side the Blues send out this summer.
And, after a steady escalation in his standard of football over the last two seasons, there has to be a chance next season of a breakthrough to the Premier League with a Derby side who have all but secured a Championship play-off place.
Bamford has bags of goalscoring instinct—which is precisely what scouts covet. What he doesn't yet have is the polish to make a name for himself at the highest level.
Gradual increases in the level at which he plays may help him gain that.
The 18-year-old Luton-born midfielder is generally considered the cream of Chelsea's present youth crop.
Lewis Baker has shone as the young Blues advanced their way through the rounds of the UEFA Youth League (he netted twice as the young Blues thumped AC Milan 4-1).
Equally at home leading with either foot, he is a gifted goalscoring midfielder who can also create chances for others.
Again, any breakthrough is unlikely to be to Chelsea's first team at this stage—particularly with the squad being packed with talent in the position in which he plays.
But next season could see him break through to senior football with a loan move.