Chelsea are well known – and in some cases ridiculed – across the Premier League for their habit of sending youth team players out on loan.
Mario Pasalic, Lucas Piazon and Marco van Ginkel are just three of the 34 names who can’t catch a break with the club’s first team, and are having to ply their trade elsewhere, at least temporarily.
A system pioneered by recently departed technical director Michael Emenalo, it has not been without its challenges. Players like Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku were sold on for hefty profits, only to be pivotal players in their two main title rivals’ squads.
In the last few years, Chelsea’s youth side have achieved incredible success, with the development squad winning six FA Youth Cups in the past eight seasons, and back-to-back UEFA Youth League titles in 2014 and 2015 for good measure.
The last player to come through the youth system and break into the first team was club legend John Terry, almost two decades ago, although Andreas Christensen is breaking that trend this season, enjoying a lengthy run of games.
On that note, here are 7 Chelsea youngsters who can buck the trend and break into Antonio Conte’s starting XI.
7. Dujon Sterling
Part of the England side which triumphed in the recent UEFA European Under-19 Championship, Dujon Sterling is another one of the bright lights tipped to have a great future.
The 18-year-old offers a great attacking threat to any team he comes up against, and made his first-team debut against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup earlier this season. He was thought highly enough by the academy coaches to be promoted to the U23 side at the tender age of 16 last season.
Given that Chelsea have a shortage of right wing-backs, with only Victor Moses and Davide Zappacosta on the books currently, Antonio Conte could hand the young Englishman game time next season if he keeps up this level of progression.
6. Kasey Palmer
Another member of the acclaimed Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League-winning sides, Kasey Palmer has made a huge impression on loan at Huddersfield, making 24 appearances on their way to promotion last season.
A no-nonsense, rampaging midfielder, Palmer has played for England all the way from U17 level to the U21s, being part of the Under-21 squad that was crowned champions at the 2016 Toulon Tournament.
His good form on loan at Huddersfield will do no harm to his chances of success at Stamford Bridge.
5. Ethan Ampadu
Having joined Chelsea in the summer from Exeter, highly-rated starlet Ethan Ampadu has impressed Antonio Conte to such an extent that he did not allow him to go out on loan and has instead found himself on the fringes of the first team picture.
The 17-year-old made his debut in the Carabao Cup third round against Nottingham Forest, garnering rave reviews with a calm, assured performance in the middle of the park.
Ampadu’s rapid rise culminated in a first call-up to the Wales squad in the November international break, making his debut as a second-half substitute against France. He was man of the match in Chelsea’s 2-1 win over Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup this week, too.
4. Lewis Baker
Speaking in the 2014-15 pre-season to the Daily Mail, Jose Mourinho famously remarked that if Lewis Baker didn’t become a full England international, along with then-teammates Izzy Brown and Dominic Solanke, the blame should fall solely at his door. Baker had made his first-team bow the previous season, coming on as a late substitute in a 2-0 FA Cup win at Derby.
The young Englishman, fresh off a two-year spell in Holland at Chelsea’s feeder club Vitesse, has returned to the Championship with Middlesbrough, making ten starts so far this term.
At 22 years of age, Baker needs to make a major impression this season and force his way into Antonio Conte’s plans, with several loan spells failing to make a significant case for his inclusion.
3. Callum Hudson-Odoi
Perhaps a name unknown to most football fans, Callum Hudson-Odoi is one of the main talents in Chelsea’s ultra successful youth set-up.
During the recent FIFA Under-17 World Cup, Hudson-Odoi scored England’s first goal of the tournament against Chile, and was an integral part in their eventual triumph, playing in every game. The young midfielder particularly starred in the final, assisting three goals to help England come from two goals down to beat Spain 5-2.
Known for going on mazy runs through midfield, the 17-year-old has a high ceiling and at such a young age, has plenty of time to make the breakthrough into senior football.
2. Tammy Abraham
Part of the youth team which won back-to-back UEFA Youth Leagues, scoring 74 goals in 98 games during that period, Tammy Abraham has garnered a reputation as a prolific goalscorer.
He was sent out on loan to Bristol City for the 2016-17 season, scoring 23 goals in 41 Championship games, second only to Chris Wood in the battle for top scorer. Abraham won the club’s Player of the Year award.
He received the chance to play at a higher level this season, with former Chelsea man Paul Clement bringing him to Swansea, where he has five goals already. This earned him a maiden England call-up for the friendlies against Germany and Brazil.
If he keeps up his good form after Christmas, there is no doubt Abraham will be back at Stamford Bridge next term.
1. Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Coming off the back of a man-of-the-match performance on his full England senior debut against Germany, Ruben Loftus-Cheek has all the hallmarks of a future star for Chelsea and the national team.
He has been one of the shining lights in an otherwise poor season for Crystal Palace, recently scoring his first goal in a 2-1 home win over Stoke.
Loftus-Cheek has already played 32 times for the Chelsea senior side, and has shown promise every time he steps out onto the field. If he continues his excellent start to the season, there is no reason why he can’t be a factor in Antonio Conte’s plans next term.