The general expectation regarding Fikayo Tomori throughout pre-season was for the centre-back to depart on loan, to a Premier League club, preferably before Chelsea's campaign got underway.
After two years of progress at Hull City and Derby County in the Championship, Chelsea wanted the defender to gain some top flight experience to continue his development. He was supposedly behind David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger, Andreas Christensen and Kurt Zouma in the pecking order of centre-halves in Frank Lampard’s setup, which implied that chances were likely to be at a premium.
As the fifth rung in the ladder, it made sense to leave temporarily. So when Everton asked about the Blues’ academy graduate with deadline day approaching, the Europa League champions weren’t going to stand in the way of their promising defender getting some needed experience in Merseyside.
However, the tide was to change dramatically on the penultimate day of the window when Luiz had some “honest conversations” with Lampard, who couldn’t guarantee a starting role to the Brazilian who consequently asked to leave… for London rivals Arsenal.
“We had some conversations over the last week, honest ones, and the conclusion was that he [Luiz] should move on,” Lampard said at his pre-match press conference. “It’s a position that I have a lot of competition. Everyone has to understand that.
“He has moved on and we wish him the absolute best, because he has been a big part of our history. There wasn’t any strike. No fall-outs, just honest conversations."
Very few could have called Luiz’s Chelsea departure before the story developed on Wednesday, especially as he’d just signed a two-year extension in May. However, as it turns out, the fan favourite at Stamford Bridge will now turn out at the Emirates for the next couple of seasons.
As expected, especially owing to the Blues’ inability to sign players in the summer, Tomori’s scheduled move to the Toffees was canceled with Lampard choosing to retain him for the season, thereby fast-tracking his introduction to the first-team.
Ideally, the perfect scenario for the club would’ve been to sharpen his development with a spell outside the club due to his relative inexperience at this level. Nonetheless, circumstances have thrown the 21-year-old into the deep end and it remains to be seen how he’ll adjust.
With Rudiger only just returning from the knee injury that’s kept him out since late April and unlikely to be rushed back into the side, Christensen still, largely, undependable at the back, and Zouma trying to find his feet after 12 months away from the side, his limitations shown in Sunday's 4-0 defeat by Manchester United, the door could be open for the former Hull loanee to leave an impression.
He has grown in the two seasons spent away from the club and even picked up Derby’s Player of the Year award at the backend of last season, due to his defensive astuteness. His commanding outings came under Lampard’s guidance too, so it’s been easy understanding just why the Chelsea head coach believes his options will suffice.
In truth, the Blues legend doesn’t have much of a choice but to trust what he has at his disposal for the two-window transfer embargo, so he’s been wisely diplomatic in his approach regarding the quality at the club.
The Blues weren’t particularly solid defensively in pre-season, conceding 11 goals in their seven fixtures and Sunday's defeat further highlighted their frailties at the back.
Even though their leaky rearguard in the off-season could be attributed to the friendly nature of the games, there is a worrying trend with Lampard, even if it’s only been a year of him in proper management.
In 46 games, Derby conceded 54 goals and were at times at sixes at sevens at the back. Their lack of scorers at the club saw them score just 69, the lowest of the sides in the top six.
While Chelsea have more quality, their situation is slightly similar to the Rams’ struggles at both ends last term and it’ll be interesting to see how the club legend makes use of his personnel and adjusts his tactics to cover the side's problems.
Tomori was meant to be farmed out on loan initially, but the sudden sale of the Blues’ best defender means the inexperienced defender has been thrown in the deep end.
Without any prior preparation, it will be a big ask, but he has the opportunity to make a major impression.