A quirk in footballing schedule saw Bristol City travel to Fulham twice in four days, the two sides were drawn together in the EFL Cup before a league match up, producing a baseball style doubleheader at Craven Cottage. An inconvenience for fans of both sides who rely on the cup to provide some rest bite from banality and relentlessness of the Championship schedule, but for Bristol City striker Tammy Abraham, it was a welcome West London homecoming.
The Chelsea loanee came off the bench on Wednesday to somehow squeeze a last minute winner through the burly frame of Fulham keeper Jesse Joronen, and sparked a Robins rout on Saturday, netting the opening goal in a 4-0 victory. The latest flurry of goals mean that Abraham is now the first player in the Football League to hit ten goals this season, thriving in a dynamic and exciting City side.
Yet while Abraham and co. were tearing through Fulham with swift and incisive passing another team clad in red were dismantling the youngster’s parent club in a similar manner, with Arsenal producing a superlative display to defeat Chelsea 3-0. Yet while Arsenal deserve credit for their scintillating style, heavy criticism has understandably fallen on Chelsea, who were one thing above all else: old.
Branislav Ivanovic, a cornerstone at the Bridge for years, was particularly vulnerable. His decline has been painfully visible this season with Jonathan Liew writing in The Telegraph after Saturday’s performance that he looked ‘like a third, even older Klitschko brother’, ‘impotently chasing after red shadows’. Defensive colleague Gary Cahill has deservedly received similar criticism while up front Diego Costa was his typical lugubrious self.
It is hard to comprehend these dawdling performances (which are becoming more frequent for Chelsea), when you see excellent performances produced by the likes of Abraham on loan. Yet the transition from the youth set up to the first team at Chelsea is notoriously difficult. Despite the blues stranglehold on the FA Youth Cup, reaching five of the last six finals, they have not had a player properly break into the side since John Terry.
It is not like there has been a lack of decent prospects either. Nathenial Chalobah was earning comparisons with Frank Lampard after a fantastic season on loan at Watford in 2013, but three years and five loan spells later and he has only just made his debut, coming off the bench in the EFL Cup against Leicester. Most worrying for Abraham is the example of Patrick Bamford who after being awarded Championship Player of Year with Middlesbrough in 2015, has seen his progress stall. He has not scored since, and had a self-proclaimed ‘terrible’ loan spell at Selhurst Park last season.
The much discussed Chelsea policy of hoarding youth has created a bottleneck, and that, coupled with expensive incoming signings means youngsters tend to stagnate in youth ranks. It is something that motivated John Swift (after loan spells at Rotherham, Swindon and Brentford) to turn down a Chelsea contract and move to Championship side Reading. Noting that there ‘obviously so many other players that you are in and amongst’, making it is impossible to get a real chance.
The evidence therefore suggests Abraham wont find his way into the Chelsea’s full team anytime soon. If Chelsea’s issues are terminal, one imagines Antonio Conte will look abroad for a solution rather than in house. Years of Mourinho management and heavy spending have installed the ethos that winning is all that matters in football, but United fans who have witnessed Marcus Rashford blossom into England’s finest young talent will attest to the fact there are few things as exciting as one of your own breaking into the first team. Abraham, and a host of other Chelsea youngsters possess energy, speed and power, all attributes lacking currently at the Bridge. Surely these are the sort of players Chelsea needs most.