Chelsea have gained a bad reputation for stockpiling talent. At present, they have 36 players out on loan at other clubs in a network spanning England, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Brazil and Colombia, among other countries.
Indeed, it would be possible to field a competitive Premier League team out of Chelsea players plying their trade elsewhere on a temporary basis.
Antonio Conte has a strong squad already, though. If he wishes to add depth he needn’t look toward the transfer market. Instead, he should consider those already on his club’s books.
Here, we take a look at four players who could return from loan spells to bolster Chelsea, and one who perhaps deserved another chance at Stamford Bridge.
Standing tall at 6’4”, Tammy Abraham possesses an imposing physical stature. He is also strong, unpredictable and awkward, making him a nightmare for opponents to defend against. Teams in the Championship have experienced this first hand this season, with the striker scoring consistently while on loan at relegation-threatened Bristol City.
Indeed, the 19-year-old has had a hand in nearly half of the Robins’ 42 league goals this term, scoring 18 and setting up two over the course of 31 appearances. In the process, Abraham has shown himself to be the sort of rugged, hard-running leader of the line that Conte adores.
Technically, the youngster is limited. His first touch is poor and he isn’t particularly adept at playing in tight spaces. As a consequence, he would require time to get used to Chelsea’s high-tempo passing game and quick final third combinations. However, with his willingness to run the channels, offer an outlet, dominate aerially and hold-up the ball, he has the potential to deputise for Diego Costa atop Conte’s 3-4-2-1 system.
The only possible reason for Lewis Baker to have not yet received his opportunity to shine in Conte’s team is his specialism as a ball-playing central midfielder. The 21-year-old has impressed in the last two seasons while on loan in the Dutch Eredivisie with Vitesse Arnhem and has stated his desire to play for Chelsea upon his return, though it remains to be seen if his dream becomes reality.
While solace can be found in the fact that Nathaniel Chalobah has been afforded multiple opportunities under Conte this term, Baker is not quite as versatile as his fellow academy graduate, who can essentially play anywhere in midfield.
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A technician with an excellent passing range, the ability to play with both feet, and the capacity to retain the ball even under close scrutiny, Baker undoubtedly has the quality to play in the Premier League. But Conte’s midfield has specific requirements – the pivots must have relentless energy, strength and defensive nous, while the inside forwards must be comfortable drifting wide – and Baker doesn’t quite fit the mould.
Nonetheless, should Chelsea switch to a three-man central midfield, or be in need of someone to move forward centrally behind the striker, Baker would provide an option.
Compared to the likes of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian, Isaiah Brown is raw. Yet, after a strong season in the Championship, he deserves to be considered as a potentially serious Chelsea squad member.
The 20-year-old spent 2015-16 with the aforementioned Baker at Vitesse but, after six months with struggling Rotherham United, which saw him score three goals and set up a further five, he joined play-off hopefuls and promotion candidates Huddersfield Town on loan.
Since joining the Terriers, Brown has achieved a notable strike rate, hitting three goals in six league starts to show signs of improving efficiency in and around the final third. And, with his pure speed, directness and ability to play virtually anywhere across the front line (he has appeared on both wings, behind the strikers, and up front this season) he looks like a real prospect.
Whether he is Chelsea quality remains in doubt for the time being, but Brown is undoubtedly ready for the step up from the second tier.
Chelsea made a smart decision in bringing back Nathan Ake, who had been outstanding while on loan at Bournemouth, in January. The Dutch centre-back has shown remarkable composure on the ball, tidy passing and the ability to drive forward and draw pressure, all traits that Conte needs in his outside centre-backs.
If Chelsea want to continue down the same path, Andreas Christensen would also be worth recalling. The 20-year-old centre-back, who already has eight caps for Denmark’s senior side, has been in superb form for Borussia Monchengladbach during his two years on loan at the German Bundesliga outfit.
He has appeared both at the heart of a back four and on the right of a back three, and while operating in the latter role he has proven himself capable of breaking the lines with a pass, as well as dribbling forward himself.
With tactical intelligence, physical strength and quality in possession, Christensen has the attributes required to fit right into Conte’s defensive line.
The fact that Chelsea can afford to loan out a player of Juan Cuadrado’s calibre speaks volumes about the sheer quantity of talent on their books right now.
Far from a promising young hopeful, the Colombian is an experienced 28-year-old international, one who has appeared at major tournaments and won 61 caps for his country in the process. He has also shown his class at the top level in Serie A, as well as the Champions League, with Fiorentina and reigning Italian champions Juventus.
However, if Chelsea fans have been impressed with the Colombian winger's performances for the Bianconeri this term, they will be disappointed to learn that Cuadrado will no be returning to Stamford Bridge in the future.
The deal that took the former Fiorentina star to Juventus Stadium is a three-year loan agreement which includes a conditional obligation for the Italian side to purchase his registration once the loan expires.
This means that, rather than being a standard option-to-buy arrangement where the interested club can decide not to purchase the player if they are disappointed by the trial period, Juventus will have no choice but to stump up the pre-agreed €25million — minus the €5million per year loan fee — fee so long as the player makes a certain (usually relatively low) number of appearances for them.
If there is one trait Conte lauds more than any other, it is versatility. And, having operated at right-back, wing-back, right wing, left wing, attacking midfield and as a second striker, Cuadrado absolutely ticks this box. He’s also cunning, skilful, fast and attack-minded.
Victor Moses has exceeded expectations this season as Chelsea’s right wing-back, but Cuadrado is simply on another level to the Nigerian on a technical and offensive basis. If Conte decides he needs an upgrade in this position, he may rue the club's decision to part ways with the Colombian star.