If you’d asked me on the 4th July, when Frank Lampard made his return to Chelsea, which youth players I thought would step up? I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
After all, for years now, our academy has churned out prospect after prospect with little to show for it in terms of first team players. If I did have to hazard a guess at who would be most likely to step up it would’ve been one of these guys:
Most likely through my own ignorance, I wouldn’t have said Fikayo Tomori.
But, just 7 weeks into the season, he’s looking like one of the first names on our team sheet.
Where it all began?
As with the other youth players above, Tomori enjoyed a trophy-laden journey through the Chelsea youth academy. Playing every game as Chelsea were eventually crowned winners of the FA Youth Cup, as well as also featuring in the majority of games in the clubs equally successful Uefa Youth League campaign. He did this at just the tender age of 17.
His success in the youth academy didn’t stop there, mind. Even as a defender, Tomori notched up goals the following year in the finals of both the FA Youth Cup and Uefa Youth League. Not bad for a defender eh?
Harnessing that early promise
Having already been a stalwart at youth level for the club. The obvious next step was to send Fikayo on loan, to provide him with much needed minutes against more experienced players. Where better than a few loans in the Championship?
Tomori made his debut for Chelsea at the very tail-end of the 15/16 season, coming on as a sub in a 1-1 draw against champions Leicester City. By this point, Chelsea had nothing to play for but no doubt it was still a nice gesture of trust in the young defender. Having been previously featuring for the development squad, in January 2017 a loan move was arranged to Brighton. In a side pushing for promotion to the Premier League, Tomori featured in 10 games overall across league and cup.
Along with Ola Aina, Tomori spent the duration of the 17/18 season at Hull City, his game time progressed from the previous season as he featured 26 times overall in varying positions.
When Frank Lampard was appointed as manager of Derby with Jody Morris alongside him as an assistant, it seemed fairly obvious that the pair would utilise their connections to Chelsea. So it was hardly surprising when both Mount and Tomori were loaned to the club for the season.
Both were crucial in helping Derby to a 6th place finish and whilst the side ultimately fell short in the playoff final against Aston Villa. It has been a huge year for both of their developments. Whilst Mount had suffered an injury layoff midway through the season, Tomori had been ever-present throughout. In total he notched up 55 appearances and was even voted the clubs Player of the Year in a side which had several promising individuals across the season including our very own Mason Mount.
As I mentioned earlier. With the return of so many promising players from loan spells, it was easy for a central defender to get lost amongst them. In particular, with so many of them already in the club, Tomori’s journey did not look an easy one. Whilst he was excellent on loan at Derby last season, many would’ve expected him to be sent out on loan to a Premier League club, with rumours of a loan move to Everton.
That was until David Luiz left for Arsenal.
At the time I was pretty gutted, whilst he undoubtedly did have his moments of frustration, he had been through some legendary moments with the club and nearly won it all. Nevertheless, it presented Fikayo with the chance to make a claim in the side.
With Rüdiger still struggling with a knee injury from the tail-end of last season, there was only three players currently in contention for two spots. Unsurprisingly, Frank opted with Christensen and Zouma on the first day of the season. Zouma had looked promising for Everton last season and looked as though he was returning to the form he had shown for Chelsea before his horrific knee injury. Alongside a composed Christensen, it looked to be a near perfect partnership.
Having painfully shipped four goals at Old Trafford, Liverpool lay next for Chelsea. In a much improved performance for the side, Tomori eventually got his chance when Christensen was taken off through injury. His quality was immediate for all to see against one of the best attacks in world football. He didn’t looked fazed whatsoever at the prospect of defending against Mohammed Salah and managed to keep him quiet in his period on the pitch. All in all, a very promising debut.
Tomori had to wait a couple of weeks for his full debut. With Christensen left on the bench, Tomori lined up alongside Zouma against Sheffield United. In one of the more frustrating games I’ve had the chance of watching, Sheffield came back from two goals down to draw 2-2. Despite this, Tomori again looked composed and fresh at the back and was not at fault for either goal. With this being the last game before the international break, it gave Frank a difficult choice with Rüdiger set to be back after it.
The choice proved so difficult in fact, that Frank opted for a back three against Wolves in order to stem the flow of goals Chelsea had been conceding. Whilst fans would’ve expected this to help in the defence, it provided a gift to anyone watching. A loose ball, around 30 yards out, was hit beautifully into the top left corner. Tomori’s celebration was emphatic and having struggled to create much up to this point, the goal was vital in opening the Wolverhampton floodgates, as two more goals were added before halftime.
Tomori had looked fantastic even on his debut against Liverpool, but since then he has just been getting better and better and has quickly established himself as a fan favourite. Frank has himself now admitted that Tomori is one of the first-choice centrebacks, which will give him a difficult choice to make upon the return of Rüdiger. The defence does now seem to be improving after a start which saw goals leaking in everywhere.
Again, Tomori was fantastic against Liverpool last weekend. Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah were kept relatively quiet and both goals came from set-pieces which Tomori played no fault in. Several times he recovered the ball from difficult situations against them.
In further testament to his performances this season he was featured on the front-cover of our programme against Brighton and put in another commanding performances as the blues kept their first clean-sheet of the season as well as a first home Premier League win for Lampard.
At the start of the season, I expected one of Tomori’s first real opportunities to play to be in our Third-Round Carabao Cup game. However, Tomori’s rise to the top has been so extreme that he didn’t even get the chance, he was rested to ensure he was in perfect condition for Brighton on Saturday. If that doesn’t show you how much Frank rates him then I don’t know what will.
What sort of player is Tomori?
What immediately stands out about Tomori is his speed. He is ridiculously fast and this is a real asset for counter attacks and means he can be extremely effective getting around the ball to shield it.
It’s a relief to see him so calm and composed on the ball on top of this. With Jorginho in the base of our midfield, it’s crucial that both of our central defenders are able to quickly receive the ball and be able to turn and move with it or simply pass it on, all whilst under pressure. Tomori has demonstrated an excellent passing range and I don’t think I could feel much more comfortable whenever he’s on the ball. You’d be forgiven for thinking Tomori is significantly older the just 21 because of how intelligent he is as a defender. In short, he looks to be the ultimate modern day defender.
When Rüdiger eventually makes his full return I honestly couldn’t tell you what our defence will look like, I’m almost certain that Fikayo has nailed down a spot in it though. Also being eligible for Canada, England and Nigeria, I fully expect Southgate to name and play Fikayo in the next England squad. This is not a player he wants to miss out on.
Whilst he has had to bide his time for a chance to break into the first team, we are now seeing the makings of a defender with world-class potential and if he can keep this up he will have a genuine case to be in the Premier League Team of the Season.
Keep up the good work Fikayo!