Challenge Mount at Chelsea and get in the England squad: What Gallagher must strive for next after impressing at Crystal Palace

Conor Gallagher with Thomas Tuchel and Gareth SouthgateGetty Images

On Saturday, just as Chelsea's players were coming to terms with the fact that they had allowed Burnley back into their game at Stamford Bridge, across London one of their players was celebrating wildly.

As while the Blues were failing to beat the struggling Clarets at home, Conor Gallagher was capping yet another Man-of-the-Match winning performance for Crystal Palace with their second goal in a 2-0 win over Wolves.

Gallagher's fourth goal of the campaign means he has found the net at least as many times as any of Chelsea's current midfielders in 2021-22, and highlights just why there was reluctance in west London to let him leave over the summer.

The 21-year-old was one of Chelsea's top performers in pre-season, and, understandably and unavoidably, his progress is being tracked keenly back at his parent club.

"He is not hard to follow because he is standing out every single matchday," Thomas Tuchel said when asked about the youngster last week. "So it's an easy one to follow and credit to him.

"We had long talks in pre-season and we imagined he could stay and fight for his place here. But we decided that when the talks came up with Patrick Vieria at Crystal Palace, he understood the role he could have in the Premier League at the club. He wanted to take the challenge.

"We also agreed to let him go because we thought, in the end, this could be the right thing to do. He feels good and has the trust of the club and manager.

"Right now, it's the beginning of November and he is an important member of the Crystal Palace squad. It's good where he is and there is no need to change this. He feels good and feels a huge part at this club."

Conor Gallagher Tuchel quote GFX
Getty/GOAL

With Premier League rules meaning that clubs can only loan one player from a domestic rival, Palace last season snubbed a deal for Gallagher to instead sign Michy Batshuayi from the Blues.

That disappointment forced Gallagher to look elsewhere for a first taste of top-flight football, and though he impressed at times for West Brom as they suffered relegation, there was always a feeling that he was not a natural fit at The Hawthorns.

"Gallagher was very young with a lot of potential," his midfield partner, Okay Yokuslu, told GOAL. "He was loved by the fans, but I also think that he will play in much better places in the future."

Gallagher was able to forgive and forget this summer as Vieira convinced him to choose Palace over Leeds United and Newcastle United, and the decision is certainly paying off so far.

That summer of 2020, though, was the first time that Gallagher had lost control of his own career path, having previously first chosen to join Charlton Athletic ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

He quickly became the Addicks' star player, but he would ruthlessly switch clubs to one higher up the league in the January window, opting for Swansea City after rejecting bids from Burnley and Norwich City in the process.

"I think he would have kept Charlton up, he is that good," former Charlton and Chelsea defender Scott Minto told GOAL. "I spoke to the manager, Lee Bowyer, about him that season and he said ‘he loves a tackle, box-to-box and he can score a goal’. I said ‘he sounds like a young Bowyer!’

"I think Swansea suited him towards the end of the season in that they were winning games under that different sort of pressure."

Gallagher now has 90 matches of senior football under his belt, and his quality matched with that experience has led to him catching the eye of not just his club manager in Tuchel, but the England boss too.

Conor Gallagher England GFX
Getty/GOAL

"I think Emile [Smith Rowe], Conor Gallagher, Marc Guehi, in particular, are all playing very well with their clubs [and could have made the squad]," Gareth Southgate said last week when explaining the decision-making process behind his squad for the November internationals, with Smith Rowe eventually called up after an injury to James Ward-Prowse.

It seems inevitable that Gallagher will follow the Arsenal star into the senior ranks sooner rather than later, but right now he is a key figure in Lee Carsley's Under-21s side.

His experience marks him out as one of the leaders of the Young Lions, who currently sit third in their European Championship qualifying group ahead of facing Czech Republic on Thursday.

Back at his boyhood club, Chelsea are in a comfortable position regarding Gallagher's future, having tied him down to a new contract that runs through until the summer of 2025.

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The only concern now is how overstocked the European champions are in midfield. They can currently call upon Mason Mount - whose game Gallagher is arguably most similar too - N'Golo Kante, Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ross Barkley, while Saul Niguez could join permanently at the end of this season, and Billy Gilmour will also be hopeful of minutes when he eventually returns from his loan spell at Norwich.

Given a player of Saul's pedigree has only managed 47 minutes of Premier League action so far this season, there will be concerns about Gallagher coming back to his boyhood club, only to be given a back-up role.

It is clear, though, that if his form holds through the season then he is already above such a position. Space will have to be found for the latest star to emerge from the Cobham academy.