When watching games from pretty much any league in the world, there is a reasonable chance one of the players featured will be described as “on loan from Chelsea”.
Such is the volume of players the recent FIFA Club World Cup winners send out on loan each season, they have even had their own WhatsApp group to keep in touch, as revealed a few years ago by Patrick Bamford.
The Leeds striker, who was on loan at Crystal Palace from Chelsea at the time, said: “The loan department set it up and allowed people in. Sometimes it drains your battery when everyone is messaging each other.”
It had been seen as a ploy for the London club to hoard players for several years before selling them on for a profit once they had established themselves, but in recent times, especially with youngsters who came through the youth ranks at Cobham, it seems the chance of a first-team appearance isn’t as fanciful as it once was.
The likes of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Reece James went on to become regular first-teamers after successful loan spells elsewhere.
Conor Gallagher has been loaned out by Chelsea four times and is currently turning out for Palace, earning valuable Premier League minutes, just as he did last season at West Brom.
The 22-year-old is yet to make his first-team debut for the Blues, but in light of his performances for the Eagles, his long wait could potentially be over next season.
Ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Selhurst Park to face Palace on Saturday, where Gallagher will be ineligible to play against his parent club, Stats Perform takes a look at whether he could indeed have a future at Stamford Bridge.
10 – Conor Gallagher is only the third player aged 21 or younger to be directly involved in 10 Premier League goals this season (7 goals, 3 assists), along with Arsenal duo Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe. Talent. pic.twitter.com/scywdOvOD3
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 14, 2022
Little by little, Gallagher impresses Tuchel
Speaking in December, Blues boss Thomas Tuchel said: “We love Conor. We are convinced about him.
“We took the decision for Conor because when we looked at the midfield – Mateo Kovacic, Jorginho, N’Golo Kante – he was considered number four in the group.
“Conor knew this all the way. An opportunity came up where he could clearly see more minutes and more responsibility.”
Tuchel ended up signing Saul Niguez on loan from Atletico Madrid, but the Spaniard has failed to make an impact during his time in England.
Gallagher, meanwhile, has scored seven goals in 21 Premier League appearances this season, including braces against Everton and West Ham, as well as a goal and an assist in Palace’s shock 2-0 win at Manchester City in October.
It has been a lengthy journey already for the player, though, having been loaned to Charlton Athletic in 2019.
He impressed so much that Chelsea cut his loan short in the January window as, despite Gallagher’s performances, Charlton were struggling in the Championship and he was instead sent to Swansea City, who were challenging for promotion.
Although he failed to score during his time in Wales, he still impressed then Swans manager Steve Cooper – who had managed England’s U17s to World Cup glory in 2017 – as he grabbed five assists in his first nine games at the Liberty Stadium.
The next logical move was the Premier League, and Gallagher was loaned to West Brom for the 2020-21 campaign, where he made 32 appearances in all competitions, before heading to Selhurst Park for another season of top-flight football.
Although he performed well at West Brom, Gallagher has undoubtedly stepped up a gear under the tutelage of Palace’s Patrick Vieira, and even earned his first senior England cap when he came on as a substitute in the 10-0 thrashing of San Marino in November.
It has not just been a case of him looking good among his team-mates at Palace. Gallagher actually stacks up well against most Premier League midfielders.
Only Arsenal’s Emile Smith-Rowe and Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United (eight) have scored more this season than Gallagher’s seven, while only Manchester City’s Ilkay Gundogan has a higher expected goals rate (6.22) than Gallagher’s 5.47, which is based on the quality of the chances for a player.
Like Mason, can Gallagher mount a challenge at Chelsea?
It is hard to ignore the fact that Gallagher’s improvement this season has come under a manager who was one of the best midfielders in the world during his playing days in Vieira, much like Mount grew significantly while working under Frank Lampard both at Derby County and Chelsea.
Mount’s is clearly the path that Gallagher should aim to tread. From being a promising youngster out on loan, he became an integral part of a European and world championship winning side.
Gallagher can take heart from the fact that Tuchel has already expressed his admiration, and the German has been happy to continue to give young players chances where he can, but it remains a place that Gallagher will have to earn.
Compared to Chelsea midfielders who have played more than five games this season, Gallagher measures well on chance creation, with only Mount (2.13) creating more per 90 minutes than his 1.61.
In terms of profile, Gallagher is certainly more in the mould of a Mount than any other of Chelsea’s current midfielders. Both look to get forward whenever possible, and have more touches in the opposition box per 90 than any of the Blues’ other options (Mount = 5.21, Gallagher = 3.07).
They also both have significantly more penalty box entries per 90 than any other Chelsea midfielder with over five Premier League appearances this term (Mount = 7.78, Gallagher = 5.22), with the next highest being Kante with 2.72, and a higher xG excluding penalties per 90 (Mount = 0.24, Gallagher = 0.27), with the next highest being Loftus-Cheek with 0.14.
The issue with Gallagher being so similar to Mount is that he’d likely find himself being in an either/or situation. Tuchel prefers to have two controlling players in his midfield three, usually two of Jorginho, Kante and Kovacic, so it seems unlikely he’d start Mount and Gallagher together very often.
It therefore seems like, should Tuchel indeed look to utilise him at Stamford Bridge next year, it will be Ross Barkley’s place in the squad that Gallagher slots into, and the former Everton man has only made four starts in all competitions this season, two of which came in the EFL Cup.
The question then becomes one of whether Gallagher is happy with that role after two seasons of regular football in the Premier League and with an England spot to fight for ahead of the World Cup in November.
For the time being, it is not something that the player needs to focus on too much. He can simply enjoy the game time he is getting in south London and try to perform to the sort of levels that will give Tuchel a decision to make when planning for next season.
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