VAR controversy, Leicester City’s swashbuckling style, Liverpool’s unrelenting charge to the title – these are all among the most prominent themes of the opening months of the 2019-20 Premier League season.
But arguably trumping all of them in terms of column inches has been Chelsea’s use of young players, with Frank Lampard’s return to the club as head coach coinciding with a new-found desire to bring youngsters into the first-team.
Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Christian Pulisic have all featured regularly, while Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James have recently returned from serious injuries.
Eden Hazard, Graeme Le Saux, Sean Dyche, Roy Hodgson and Petr Cech are just a few of the army of people to lavish Chelsea and Lampard with praise for this philosophy.
Although it is difficult not to be cynical of Lampard’s insistence that he would have had the same approach even if Chelsea were not banned from signing new players, the fact remains they are giving young players a chance.
But how does their use of under-23 players compare to the rest of the teams in Europe’s top five leagues?
It’s been a huge year so far for @masonmount_10, but the hard work started long ago. Tune in tomorrow for episode one of ‘#ThePride,’ looking at the man behind the player – starting with the inspirational story of Academy graduate Mason. #ThePrideOfLondon pic.twitter.com/jC4lf8UfFE
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) November 20, 2019
It might surprise supporters to learn that among Premier League clubs, Chelsea don’t lead the way for appearances (60), minutes (4,164) or assists (8) for players who were under 23 on matchday.
Manchester United have racked up the highest number of matches for players younger than 23 (84), one more than Leicester. The next highest is Bournemouth (67), while Arsenal and Norwich City are also ahead of Chelsea.
As such, United have given 5,801 minutes of Premier League football to young players, though Leicester lead the way with 6,164 and are also on top in terms of assists (15).
Chelsea’s 20 goals from qualifying players is a division high, however, four more than United. Leicester are the third and final side to reach double figures.
And the Blues’ average starting XI age of 25 years and 115 days is among the youngest, though Bournemouth are ahead on that front (25y 88d).
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 17, 2019
In Spain’s top flight, only Real Sociedad (84) and Real Mallorca (68) have given more matches to young players than Chelsea. They’re also the only clubs to accumulate more minutes played by youngsters than the Blues (5,341 and 5,944, respectively).
La Real also top the charts for goals (10), assists (8) and average starting XI age (25y 235d) in Spain, though none of those records better Chelsea’s.
Therefore, it’s fair to say LaLiga, renowned for its development of young players, is lagging behind Premier League in that regard at the moment.
He arrived at @realmadriden aged 16 and could star at the Bernabeu this weekend…
— LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) November 20, 2019
Chelsea’s 60 appearances by young players would put them fourth on those terms in Serie A, with Fiorentina (79), Genoa and AC Milan (both 72) out in front.
Those three have also given more minutes to under-23s, with Fiorentina (5,837) setting the bar again.
Genoa have had 11 goals set up by under-23 players, three more than Chelsea, while Milan’s average starting XI age (24y 203d) is much lower than Lampard’s men.
But in each of those two parameters, Chelsea would be second in the chart. They would lead for goals from under-23s, with Fiorentina top in Italy on 10.
— ACF Fiorentina English (@ACFFiorentinaEN) November 18, 2019
RB Leipzig (80), Mainz, Schalke (both 70) and Borussia Monchengladbach (63) have been the most open to playing under-23s in the Bundesliga
Similarly, all four clubs have seen those players feature in more than 4,500 minutes this season – Leipzig unsurprisingly leading the way with 5,259.
Leipzig are also Chelsea’s closest challengers in terms of goals. Their record of 17 may be slightly less than the Blues, but their 11-assist haul – level with Gladbach – takes them to 28 involvements, exactly the same as Lampard’s side.
Julian Nagelsmann’s Leipzig are also the youngest side in the Bundesliga, with their starting XI’s average age just 24 years and 340 days. Mainz (25y 38d) are the only other top-flight German club to beat Chelsea in this regard.
That’s it. That’s the tweet.
— RB Leipzig English (@RBLeipzig_EN) November 9, 2019
France’s Ligue 1 is by far the most accessible of the five major leagues for young players, with a total of 1,360 appearances from under-23 players across the 20 clubs, an average of 68 per team.
In comparison, the Premier League (871) averages 43.55 appearances per club and the Bundesliga’s 18 sides afford under-23s 45.28 outings (815 total).
Nice make up the biggest share of the Ligue 1 appearances with a massive 121, but Lille (116), Lyon (99), Reims (96), Nimes (83), Toulouse (82), Rennes, Bordeaux (both 75), Metz (74), Monaco, Dijon (both 65) and Strasbourg (62) have all allowed youngsters to play more than 60 matches.
Of course, a key element of this is the lack of funds at many of these clubs and French football in general with the exception of Paris Saint-Germain, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, have entrusted the fewest games (30) to under-23 players in the division.
Nevertheless, only Nice (24y 41d), Lille (24y 111d) and Lyon (24y 288d) have a younger starting line-up on average than Lampard’s Chelsea.
— OGC Nice (@ogcnice_eng) August 28, 2019