There was no shortage of talent on display for Chelsea last night in the Carabao Cup third round. Frank Lampard picked plenty of academy products in the first XI, and brought on two even younger homegrown boys later on.
Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James, Billy Gilmour, Marc Guehi all excelled throughout, and Ian Maatsen and Tino Anjorin shone coming off the bench.
All of them look like top talents, and we won’t know for many years which goes on to have the best career. But looking at Chelsea’s squad situation right now, one name stands out as someone who could have a potential path to the first team open up quickly.
Just as we saw with Fikayo Tomori’s rise from Hull backup to Derby starter to Champions League appearances for Chelsea in a couple of years; if the cards fall in your favour a sudden change in fortunes is possible.
Ian Maatsen has done everything so far to help his chances of making that breakthrough. He’s been brilliant for our youth teams since arriving from Feyenoord in the summer of 2018. The new coaching staff know him well, and it’s thanks to them he has now had his chance.
At the moment, there are two senior players blocking his path to first team action at left back, but that situation could change very soon. Marcos Alonso is back in the team with Emerson out injured, but if the Italy international recovers and retakes his place for the rest of the season, Alonso is likely to want out. There will be plenty of interested teams, and Atletico Madrid are often linked with interest in the Spain international.
Next summer, if Maatsen has continued shining for the youth teams and in any future first team chances he gets, he will be 18 and in the perfect place to go into next season as backup to Emerson.
In the past this kind of fluid meritocracy seem like wishful thinking. A loan for a year or two in the Premier League on Bundesliga would be proposed to “toughen him up”, then we’d sign a 29 year old from Serie A in moment of weakness, leaving Maatsen out in the cold and eventually sold.
Now things are different. The manager and his staff know the young players and want them to succeed. They are more willing than ever to give them a chance, and they will take a risk on them rather than signing a more experienced alternative.
It’s great news for young players like Maatsen and the fans who love watching academy talent thrive. These decisions aren’t just about keeping local fans happy however. There are genuine footballing benefits too. These are top players coming through at Cobham, and giving them a chance is good for our football as well as our feelings. Just take a look at the quality and intensity that the 17 year old brought to the game last night from the moment he came on.
At the moment he looks like the future at left back. But give him a year, and he could well be the present.