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Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterApril 18, 2017

On Monday, Chelsea fans experienced a punch to the gut that’s been drawing closer and closer with every passing seasonal swing: Veteran centre-back and club legend John Terry will leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the season, a statement on the club’s official website read, ending a 22-year senior association between himself and the Blues.

The feeling of inevitability surrounding this move doesn’t make it any easier to take. When you captain a club 578 times you leave a mark, and he’s been present throughout Chelsea’s remarkable rise up the footballing hierarchy—culminating in that Champions League victory in 2012. This season he’s played sparingly but taken up a more active role on the training field in lieu.

He’s also the last player to traverse the rocky bridge from the Blues academy side to its senior counterpart—a fact Chelsea fans are reminded of only too often.

Despite recruiting many of the most promising teenagers for the academy side—and said academy side dominating at youth level—no player has claimed a permanent place under the multitude of managers employed in the last two decades.

Everyone is desperate for that to change; the club, the fans, the manager, everyone. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was supposed to do it, Dominic Solanke too, and this season Nathaniel Chalobah has come the closest given his presence in almost every matchday Premier League squad.


It might be that Terry’s exit illuminates the path for a Chalobah to break into the first team at some point soon, but not Nat Chalobah.

Trevoh Chalobah (Nat’s brother) is England’s finest young centre-back, has been the anchor of both his club and country’s youth sides this season, and he could well benefit from a period of introspection at the club following the departure of Terry—the final bastion of a faith-in-youth policy.

Winning an FA Youth Cup would help no end in forcing his way into Antonio Conte’s thinking, and he has the chance to do just that this month. Chelsea square off against a talented Manchester City side in a two-legged affair and hope to repeat what they managed in both 2015 and 2016. This City attack are the strongest they’ll face yet, though, and the Blues’ defensive play will need to be spot-on.

Credit: Chelsea TV

Chalobah is the key man in Chelsea under-18 manager Jody Morris’ defensive line. He doesn’t always play with the under-18s because he’s sometimes starting for the under-23s (alongside Kurt Zouma), but when he drops back down, he takes control. He’s a thoroughly commanding presence who seems to play the game in a state of immense ease.

Physically, he’s essentially a complete prospect. Overbearingly tall but quick across the ground; he’s also strong despite his reasonably slender frame. He uses that strength and speed to nullify opposing strikers. They can’t beat him in the air, and he can keep up with them on the ground. Some of the recovery runs he embarks uponchasing markers back and dispossessing them in one fluid motionare jaw-dropping.

Be it for England or Chelsea, his long, raking passes are often the beginning of some of his team’s best moves. Already comfortable on either side of the defence in a two, or in any of the roles in a three, he’s become used to launching balls forward from different areas—and, crucially, with either foot. He finds wingers in space to switch the point of attack well, or he can push forward into midfield and then fire low, sideways passes into the pockets he creates.

Credit: Wyscout

This trait, perhaps above all, is one that generally translates well from youth football to senior football; provided the player is imbued with confidence and encouraged to do what they usually do, young defenders can often step straight up and continue passing well. That Chalobah can do for the youth team what David Luiz does for the senior side is major feather in his capit’s a directly translatable skill.

One thing that shows up on almost every Chalobah scouting report is crucial blocks. No matter how comfortable Chelsea may be in some games, the defence is always put under a little pressure here and there, and if there’s a goal-saving block to be made, he will make it.

Chalobah is at his most aesthetically pleasing when he’s high up, pushing forward with the ball at his feet and moving the ball between the lines, but he’s at his most effective when he’s putting his body in the way of shots in the box. In that sense, he’s a little Luiz, but he can summon his inner Terry too.

Credit: Chelsea TV

With City likely to send out the likes of Jadon Sancho, Lukas Nmecha and Phil Foden—all England under-17 and under-18 international colleagues—to attack with freedom in this FA Youth Cup final, Chelsea’s defensive play will need to be near-perfect.

The Blues’ own strengths may lie more towards the top of the pitch too, with Mason Mount a midfield wizard and Dujon Sterling a cool, calm decision-maker from the flank, but the Londoners hold the edge in this game as their defence is stronger.

Chelsea have won each of the last three FA Youth Cup finals, and no class wants to be the one who ends that remarkable streak. There’s immense pressure on these young Blues to achieve success, and an immense hunger from City’s side to end this era of dominance and put their own names in lights.

The two-legged final will feature several of England’s finest under-17 and under-18 players in action, and Chalobah might just be the finest of them all.

 

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