The first two of Chelsea’s four goals against Southampton were scored by former youth products of the club: Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount. The best of the two goals was Abraham’s in the 16th minute, assisted by another former Chelsea youth player, Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Hudson-Odoi sent a long ball from beneath midfield to Abraham, who was making a run beyond the defense. Abraham brought the ball down just outside the box, with the goalkeeper coming out to block his path and a defender tight on his right. The ball bounced into the air after his first touch, and as it was rising, the striker looped it above the keeper and very high into the air. The defender chased after the ball, which was dropping into the goal, and though the defender spectacularly managed to clear the ball before it hit the ground, it had already crossed the goal line.
The goal was Abraham’s eighth in nine games, putting him atop the goalscoring charts alongside Sergio Aguero. That fact is a turn of narrative for the young striker, who seemed out of his depth in the first few games of the season, a torrid time that bottomed out when he missed the decisive penalty against Liverpool in the Super Cup and became the victim of racist abuse on social media.
Abraham’s turnaround, and the hot form of Chelsea’s youth, is a testament to their quality. They are good players, and now they’re finally getting the chance to showcase that.
That opportunity comes from an unfortunate situation. Earlier this year, Chelsea were given a two-transfer-window ban for breaching FIFA rules in regards to signing minors. This ban, along the sale of Eden Hazard and David Luiz, left holes in the team that needed to be filled from within. Frank Lampard, whose legendary status gives the team some leniency during a transitional period, said at his appointment that he would turn to the club’s young players to fill the gaps, and that he would not be afraid to give any young player a chance on the field if they impressed in practice.
In a bit of wonderful irony for Chelsea, the transfer ban and a liberated manager has created the perfect environment for their young players to succeed. The natural struggles for players of that age can be forgiven during what was already expected to be a down year. And the fact that they have become necessary to the team’s survival this year gives them a responsibility and opportunities in the first team that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Because there’s no way Chelsea challenges for the title, the youngsters are allowed to run wild and grow.
So far, Chelsea has made the most of this season. The bulk of their goals this season has been scored by their former academy players, and at the same time, the veterans of the team seemed to have stepped up their game. All this success is happening while Christian Pulisic, their big-name signing before the ban, is only playing sparingly for the team.
Whether the young players will continue to succeed is yet to be seen. Inconsistency is part of their development, and just like in the first few games, Abraham will surely have more rough periods alongside his similarly-aged teammates. But so far, they are scoring and playing freely in a way that would have been unimaginable if Chelsea had bigger ambitions this season.
Of course, Chelsea will go after big names after the ban is lifted, and there’s no answer yet whether these players will retain their places in the team afterwards. For now, Chelsea belongs to the youngsters, and they have turned what should be a year of despair into one of hope and joy.