There was a fresh name on the teamsheet on Wednesday night, but anyone who had seen Nathan Ake before would not have been surprised at the impressive performance delivered by the 18-year-old.
Dutchman Ake arrived in the Chelsea Academy at the beginning of last season, already a youth international, who would go on to play a prominent role in our FA Youth Cup success.
When he signed, he had just played in the Under-17 World Cup in Mexico, and last summer captained his country in the European Championships at the same age group, reaching the final before penalties defeat against Germany. He has recently stepped up to Under-19 level, and scored against Scotland while once again sporting the armband.
Originally a defender equally comfortable on the left or through the middle, we have seen him become a regular for the Under-21 side in holding midfield this season, a role he filled with a calm maturity at Middlesbrough last night.
After a late substitute appearance at Norwich on Boxing Day, it was a first start in professional football for the scholar, who admitted to a few pre-game nerves.
‘I was a bit nervous, but I had good feelings about the game beforehand,’ he said. ‘After the first minute you don’t think about anything else, you play your own game and that’s it.
‘As soon as you start the game you see it is just a normal game, so you try to play your normal game.
‘A lot of people spoke to me beforehand too. John Terry, Paulo Ferreira, David Luiz, Bolo Zenden and the manager all talked to me, said to play my own game and that there was no pressure on me. They talked a lot during the game as well and that really helped me.
‘It was a hard game, in the first half especially. There was a lot of up and down running because it was quite open, so it was hard to position yourself, but the second half was much better.’
A 2-0 away win was a fine way to get himself off the mark, and Ake is hoping to see more action having become a regular participant in first-team training sessions in recent months.
‘I am more comfortable around the first team, I have been training with them every day for a little while and I have seen myself growing up,’ he explained, ‘but after the first game I know I still need to keep working and training hard every day to keep progressing.
‘It’s what you work for all your life and it’s nice to be training with the team every day and around the squad. It’s what you want.’