As ever, Chelsea have a number of star assets that are catching the eye out on loan, with their reputation for developing top-class talent seemingly growing year on year, while also providing manager Thomas Tuchel with something to think about ahead of next season.
Temporary switches for the likes of Levi Colwill and Billy Gilmour at Huddersfield Town and Norwich City, respectively, have proved particularly beneficial for all concerned so far this term, while Slough-born Albania international Armando Broja has also enjoyed a stellar debut Premier League campaign on-loan at Southampton, having netted six top-flight goals this season.
Perhaps the most successful loan deal for the Blues this term, however, has been that of Conor Gallagher to Crystal Palace, with the hardworking midfielder thriving under the tutelage of former Arsenal ‘Invincible’ Patrick Vieira at Selhurst Park.
Such has been the quality of the 22-year-old’s displays, the £22.5m-rated starlet is now reportedly set for an important role upon his return to Cobham next season.
What’s the word?
As per the Evening Standard, the Stamford Bridge outfit are set to bring Gallagher back into the first-team fold for the 2022/23 campaign following his hugely successful loan stint, with the Epsom-born workhorse likely to be handed the chance to fight it out with the likes of Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho and N’Golo Kante for a starting berth.
The Englishman – who made his senior Three Lions debut against San Marino back in November – is yet to make a first-team appearance for his parent club, although has earned valuable Football League and top-flight experience with a succession of loan moves over the last few seasons.
As the report suggests, there are concerns that a return to west London could hamper both his playing time and his chances of making Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad, although such has been his form of late he is likely to earn an enhanced role under Tuchel next season – with suggestions that his return may even see the club hold fire on their pursuit of compatriot Declan Rice.
The next N’Golo Kante?
It had been a fairly gradual start to life in senior football for young Gallagher, with previous loan moves to the likes of Charlton, Swansea and West Brom, although the £17k-per-week man has seemingly exploded into life this term for the Eagles, emerging as one of the Premier League’s most exciting talents.
That form has, unsurprisingly, caught the attention of those at St George’s Park, with Southgate handing him his first senior international start in the 2-1 win over Switzerland on Saturday; a game in which the industrious midfielder – who his national team boss described as having a “fabulous mindest” – scooped the man of the match award for his all-action display.
For many, there were signs that the energetic youngster could well thrive back at Chelsea next season as he simply appeared unfazed in front of the Wembley crowd, while the nature of his performance also suggested he could well be the heir to Kante’s throne in the club’s midfield.
The diminutive Frenchman – who joined from Leicester City in 2016 – has long been celebrated for his humble, yet breathtaking displays at both club level and for his native France, although at 31 the 5 foot 6 warrior is perhaps no longer truly at the peak of his powers.
He was, of course, at his brilliant best in the Champions League final triumph last term – a performance that led BT Sport pundit Joleon Lescott to describe him as “arguably the best in that position ever to have played” – although has struggled for fitness at times this season, having started just 14 league games thus far.
Gallagher, by contrast, has missed just four of his side’s 29 league games – two of which were enforced due to his ineligibility to face his parent club – and has chipped in with an impressive tally of eight league goals, offering an attacking thrust that the more senior Kante simply cannot match.
That was the view of talkSPORT pundit Tony Cascarino who insisted that “Gallagher is like Kante with goals”, although even in their defensive duties the younger man has also come out on top this term, having registered 2.4 tackles per game compared to the Frenchman’s 2.0 tackles per game.
As per SofaScore, both men are also level for interceptions made (0.9), further illustrating that the academy product is more than showing signs that he can soon fill the shoes of the World Cup winner.
Gallagher, who has been described as “jewel” by his former Addicks boss Lee Bowyer, will undoubtedly be part of Tuchel’s first-team set-up next season and based on the above evidence, he has all the potential of becoming a Kante-like figure for the Blues in the long term.