The last 12-13 months have no doubt seen significant changes occur at Chelsea Football Club as there have been loads of exits and arrivals, from Roman Abramovich selling the club to a Todd Boehly-led takeover and to Mauricio Pochettino being the fourth manager to coach the club during this period after the departures of Thomas Tuchel, Graham Potter and Frank Lampard.
Several players have also come and gone as well with Mason Mount, Kai Havertz, N’Golo Kanté, Cesar Azpilicueta and Jorginho so far being the most notable departures within this period while the likes of Christopher Nkunku, Nicolas Jackson, and Enzo Fernandez amongst others have all arrived as first team signings. The last two-three transfer windows have no doubt been a busy one from a Chelsea perspective and one thing has been very clear as regards their incomings; signing the very best young talents and prospects from around the world.
There’s been an influx of teenagers and U-21 stars at Chelsea following the Todd Boehly takeover with the likes of Gabriel Slonina, Andrey Santos, Carney Chukwuemeka, David Datro Fofana, Noni Madueke, Cesare Casadei, Benoit Badiashile amongst others all joining across the first two transfer windows of the Americans’ ownership. And most recently, the club has confirmed deals for promising teenagers like Kendry Paez and Dujuan Richards amidst strong links with signing Brazilian talents Matheus Franca and Angelo Gabriel.
While Chelsea are trying to unearth talents from different parts of the world, there’s one looming from within, a young talent freshly baked from the oven of Chelsea’s reputable Cobham academy, and he doesn’t need much introduction to the Chelsea faithful who had watched him make his first team debut on the 8th of January 2022 in an FA Cup third round game against Chesterfield as he became the youngest ever player to start for Chelsea in an FA Cup tie at the age of 17.
Lewis Hall instantly caught the eye on the night, playing as a left wing-back in the stead of the more established and experienced Marcos Alonso who was rested by Thomas Tuchel for the clash against the National League side and in what was a 5-1 win at Stamford Bridge, Hall registered his first ever senior goal contribution in his first ever start as he assisted Romelu Lukaku for Chelsea’s third, and it’s no surprise that Thomas Tuchel had some positive words to say about the teenager following his debut.
“It was his performance in general and his attitude in training. The quality he showed was very calm and very good in our possession games and the little games he trained in,” Tuchel said after the match.
He failed to get any more first-team action for the rest of the season but he eventually got another chance following a long-term injury to Ben Chilwell in the first half of last season as he started and impressed in a 2-0 Carabao Cup loss away at Manchester City in November last year.
“I really enjoyed his performance,” then Chelsea boss Graham Potter told the press after the defeat at the Etihad Stadium. “He took responsibility, took the ball in tight areas, attacked the box, and could’ve scored a couple of goals on another day.” So it was a really nice performance, a mature performance, I thought. He is a quiet lad but goes about his work. I’ve been really impressed with him,” Potter added.
Lewis Hall’s Premier League debut eventually came in a 1-0 loss away to Newcastle in what was somewhat of a breakthrough season for the teenager who was one of Chelsea’s bright sparks in a very much underwhelming 2022/23 campaign and injuries to key first team players like Ben Chilwell and Marc Cucurella did help his cause as he was made to learn the hard way by being thrown in from the start against some of the very best Premier League teams like Newcastle, Man City, Liverpool and Man United across the Premier League, FA Cup and the EFL Cup.
Dynamism, bravery, pace, intelligence, and skill were all brought to the fore by Hall and everyone could just attest to the fact that the kid is special and unique beyond his age, and despite being the youngest and least experienced of Chelsea’s three left-backs, the academy star had a higher WhoScored rating (6.87) than the more established Ben Chilwell and Marc Cucurella who both had a rating of 6.65.
New manager, Mauricio Pochettino is obviously spoilt for choice at left-back heading into the 2023/24 season as apart from Chilwell, Cucurella, and Hall, another academy product in Ian Maatsen has already arrived for pre-season off the back of a brilliant season in the championship where he helped Burnley to a first placed finish that helped them secure automatic promotion to the Premier League. In total, Chelsea currently have four left-back options heading into pre-season. Though, the futures of both Marc Cucurella and Ian Maatsen currently look uncertain.
Lewis Hall is most likely going to be behind Ben Chilwell and Marc Cucurella (if he stays) on the pecking order but his versatility could make him a very useful tool for Pochettino next season. Pertinent to note that his favourite position is at central midfield. However, playing regularly in that position next season is not something to fully bank on as the youngster has played only once in that position for the first team in a goalless draw against Liverpool at Anfield where he did struggle before being replaced by Mykhailo Mudryk in the second half.
“I think bringing Hall off was the right move. He was a bit loose and got caught giving the ball away one or two too many times,” TalkSport pundit Stuart Pearce said after the game.
There is always room for improvement though, and in retrospect, it is easy to cut Lewis Hall some slack as he had started in central midfield against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool who are obviously well-drilled and famed for their very high and effective pressing and even the most seasoned professionals will have to be on their A-game when playing against them, especially in phases of building up play from the defensive half.
Most important for Hall is the fact that he is under no pressure whatsoever to perform at the highest level at the age of 18 as Chelsea already have more established options both in midfield and left-back. Also, there’s the opportunity to learn under the tutelage of Pochettino who has built a reputation for developing youngsters.
There will most likely be discussions about the future of Lewis Hall this summer as he is just a talent that cannot be overlooked. Could a loan move be on the cards? Yes, but there’s been very little or no reports in that regard at the moment, and while such a move to a lower Premier League side or to Chelsea’s sister club, Strasbourg could make sense for the development of the player, another full season with the first team will suit both parties.
Ben Chilwell’s injury record over the past two to three seasons makes him a player not really worth relying on and while Marc Cucurella is yet to fully hit the ground running ever since he joined from Brighton last summer, Ian Maatsen is already a subject of interest from various clubs this summer per multiple reports. Besides, Hall is just 18 years old and should be in no rush to seek first-team football. Being an understudy to a seasoned left-back like Ben Chilwell could do him a whole lot of good plus he could be available as a wildcard option in the central midfield positions already occupied by Enzo Fernandez, Carney Chukwuemeka, Andrey Santos, and potentially Moises Caicedo.
Chelsea’s antecedence with giving academy stars first-team opportunities does not look good though, as only John Terry, Reece James, and Mason Mount had really broken through at the club from the academy and this season’s lack of European football also does not help matters for players like Lewis Hall who are most likely to be on the fringes but he is another gem with a very high ceiling that Chelsea must keep a very close eye on and hope that he is prepared to wait for his time.
By: Moses Adikwu / @Moe_Adikwu
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Martin Rickett – PA Images