Five Chelsea youngsters ready to make the grade

Posted by Phil Lythell

Kevin De BruyneGettyImagesKevin De Bruyne is capped at international level for Belgium

With Jose Mourinho admitting that Chelsea are aiming to be compliant with UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations, the pressure is now on to start integrating some of their raft of youngsters into the first team.

The Blues certainly do not lack for options given that last season the club had loaned out almost an entire squad's worth of footballers -- 27 to be exact -- most of whom have seen those particular arrangements expire. A number of the youngsters will be sent away once more to continue their education, though some will be retained in the hope that they can impress their new manager.

In addition to the loanees, Chelsea have a terrific crop of young players fresh from their tremendous exploits in the NextGen Series -- the Europe-wide tournament for under-19s -- and the FA Youth Cup, with the final being reached in both competitions. With the pool of talent growing and flourishing there will be a few harbouring hopes of training and playing alongside Eden Hazard and Frank Lampard on a regular basis next season.

Here are five of whom Chelsea supporters could be coming much more acquainted with from August onward.

Romelu Lukaku
With an incoming price tag of £18 million and first-team appearances already under his belt, Lukaku is hardly the classic unheralded youngster ready to make an impact on the Premier League. However, with only three starts for the Blues since his arrival from Anderlecht two years ago he will be a relatively fresh face in the Chelsea dressing room, even if English football fans are already fully aware of his talents. Seventeen goals from 38 appearances while on loan at West Bromwich Albion last season earned him a PFA Young Player of the Year nomination and with Mourinho known to have previously coveted the player when he was Real Madrid manager, the 20-year-old can expect to have a significant role next season. The only situation that might scupper Lukaku's progress at Chelsea would be if a marquee striker such as Edinson Cavani is signed as he is keen to play regularly to seal his spot in Belgium's star-studded 2014 World Cup squad.

Kevin De Bruyne
For someone who has only ever worn the blue of Chelsea during preseason friendlies, it is remarkable just how much chatter there has been about De Bruyne by fans on social media. Like Lukaku, he is another Belgian who was far from a snip at £7 million, though his only appearance at Stamford Bridge came when playing for Genk against his future employers in the group stages of the 2011/12 Champions League. He caught the eye both home and away with his excellent close control, clever movement and his dangerous deliveries from wide areas. Since then he has lit up the Bundesliga while on loan at Werder Bremen, attracting the attention of no less than Champions League finalists Borussia Dortmund as they seek a replacement for the outgoing Mario Gotze. Capable of playing in wide or central areas, there have been whispers that he will finally be drawn in to the Chelsea fold next season and should the ludicrous rumours about Juan Mata joining Barcelona actually come to fruition, then he can expect to feature on a regular basis, as long as can bring his form with him from Germany.

Nathan Ake

Nathan Ake
PA PhotosNathan Ake: Dutch midfielder

The 18-year-old Dutchman is another who is not exactly unknown, but is one who could be set for greater prominence next season. He made his first start for Chelsea in the 2-0 win at Middlesbrough in the fifth round of the FA Cup and although the headlines the next day were all about Rafael Benitez's outburst against the mutinous travelling Chelsea fans, it was Ake who stole the show on the field at the Riverside. Schooled as a holding midfielder, he possesses an excellent natural instinct for where and when to disrupt the opposition, displaying an intuitive knack of being in the right place at the right time. His distribution is considered and progressive and although he still has plenty of developing to do he presently has all the attributes to suggest that he can make the grade. Should Ake impress in preseason then Mourinho might be dissuaded from acquiring a defensive midfielder, especially with Michael Essien having returned from his loan spell at Real Madrid.

Islam Feruz
With Chelsea as yet unsure of their striking options next season it is entirely possible that Feruz could present the first team with an option up front. The 17-year-old is already an Under-21 international, having been Scotland's youngest-ever representative at that level when he played against Italy aged just 16. The Somalia-born teenager has shown a keen eye for goal for Chelsea's younger age groups since he joined from Celtic in 2011 and made football observers sit up and take notice by netting seven times in last season's NextGen Series to end the competition as joint top scorer. Small, pacy and with a crisp instinctive finish, Feruz would offer a completely different threat to that posed by the club's other forwards, for whom power and strength are the key traits, and he could be employed as an impact substitute when the situation demands.

Nathaniel Chalobah
If there is one area where Chelsea are blessed regarding their young players it is central midfield. As well as the aforementioned Ake, the Blues also have the hugely impressive Ruben Loftus Cheek, the cultured Lewis Baker and the relative veteran Josh McEachran. But currently commanding more attention than each of those is Chalobah, who cemented his burgeoning reputation with a series of excellent displays while on loan at Watford last season. Although capable of playing in central defence, the 18-year-old is most impressive a touch further forward where he is equally proficient at snuffing out the opposition's play as he is at setting his own team on the attack. He also possesses a rocket in his boots, as exhibited wonderfully by his sumptuous strike against Leicester City toward the back end of last season. Chalobah has already represented England at four different age groups and featured during the recent UEFA Under-21 Championships, belying his tender years. While nothing has yet been decided, it is likely that he will be given the option of regular football by serving another loan, though being such a prodigious talent it would be no surprise if Mourinho decided that it was in all parties' interest to fast-track Chalobah into the first team.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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