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Alex Blinston writes a detailed scout report about Chelsea’s young attacking midfielder on loan to Vitesse Arnhem, Lewis Baker.
In five years at Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho handed out five starts to Chelsea academy graduates. In the same time Chelsea loaned out 36 players under the age of 23. You could argue that Chelsea’s loan system is a structural matter and has little relevance to Mourinho, however, it has been plain to see throughout his career that breaking into a Mourinho side as a youth player is like breaking into Area 51: it was always going to be an uphill battle for Lewis Baker. After being shipped out to feeder club Vitesse Arnhem in the summer, Baker has taken full advantage of his first-team opportunities and is showing that he has a lot to offer Chelsea as they enter their new era.
The Luton-born midfielder spent just one year with his hometown Hatters before Chelsea swooped to sign Baker at nine years of age. He carried his progression through the Chelsea ranks making gradual steps up, impressing Chelsea’s youth coaches. As a result Baker was moved up to the under-18 side as a fresh-faced 16-year-old, an impressive feat by any measure.
In the 2012/13 NextGen series, the attacking-midfielder really came to the fore. Although Chelsea were eventually defeated by Aston Villa in the final, Baker was named Player of the Tournament finishing with four goals to his name. The following season Baker went from strength to strength captaining the under-21 side on several occasions on their way to a Premier League title scoring 11 goals and registering 7 assists in the process. With the trophies came individual awards for Baker including goal of the season for a sumptuous back heel at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal – it is well worth a watch – and Chelsea’s youth Player of the Season award was also one for Baker to tick off the list. Short loan spells at MK Dons and Sheffield Wednesday in early 2015 will have been important stepping stones for Lewis Baker on his road to stardom.
In the international level Lewis Baker has also thrived. After three appearances for the U-17 squad, Baker made the step up to the U-19 squad and under the guidance of Noel Blake, the midfielder scored 8 goals in 13 appearances, including a brace in a 2-1 win over Scotland in a European Championship qualifier. After captaining Aidy Boothroyd’s U-20’s, Gareth Southgate came calling and his first appearance in the U-21 side came in October of last year as England defeated Kazakhstan.
The Chelsea-Vitesse relationship is one that has continued to grow in recent times with a number of Chelsea’s young upstarts – 15 different players over the last three and a half seasons – all making the move to Arnhem. They have done so with varying levels of success, yet with over two-thirds of an Eredivisie season to his name, Lewis Baker’s time in yellow and black will be marked down as one of the triumphs.
His importance to Rob Maas’ side is underlined by the fact that only six players have accrued more minutes than Baker (1633) in the Vitesse ranks. In terms of key passes, Baker ranks eighth in the Eredivise hitherto with 47 and the Englishman has accrued four goals and three assists. Deployed as the central midfielder in Bosz’s 4-3-3 system Baker is given the freedom to get forward whilst also providing a creative spark.
While Baker isn’t shy to help out defensively – 0.8 tackles per game and 1.0 interception per game from midfield are respectable figures – he certainly falls in to the category of an attacking midfielder. He’s a real threat when driving at the defence and few can boast to possess the sublime technique of the 19-year-old either. The backheel against Arsenal is the highlight but his goal against Juventus in the NextGen series and left-footed strikes against Tottenham and Scotland at U21 level show he is equally adept at striking the ball with both feet.
What really stands out when analysing Baker’s statistics are the sheer number of goals that he has to his name. 18 goals in 46 games for Chelsea’s U-21 side and 10 in 25 at England youth level would be formidable numbers for a striker, let alone a central midfielder. While he has failed to carry his goalscoring exploits to senior level (7 in 43 games) it is something that will likely, in time, become his main asset at senior level.
The chief penalty taker at Chelsea’s youth sides, Baker has already slotted two Eredivisie penalties away this term. A further string to his bow is his ability to lead the side, showcased by his performances with the armband in Chelsea’s U21 triumph.
Lewis Baker’s future at Chelsea will likely be dependent on the direction they take with their next manager. If Roman Abramovich misses that sweet taste of success and appoints a Mourinho-esque character where longevity can often be brought in to the question, then Lewis Baker may have to continue to wait for his chance in blue. But, with the right man at the helm Baker can have a similar impact that Ruben Loftus-Cheek has had at Stamford Bridge; whisper it quietly but I think he may even usurp Loftus-Cheek in the long run.
Former Vitesse manager Peter Bosz said of Baker, “He switches the ball between both feet effortlessly,” enthuses Bosz. “Not that one leg is much better than the other. He can shoot great with both feet. Corners, free kicks, penalties. “It is unprecedented, even at the highest level in Europe, you’ll rarely see such a thing.” Bosz isn’t hyperbolic in his description of Lewis Baker; he really has been scintillating at times in the Eredivisie this season. The switch in to senior level in a different country where he doesn’t speak the language hasn’t fazed him; it is hard to define how high his ceiling is for Lewis Baker.
Dele Alli’s rise to prominence in the Premier League this year should only encourage Baker. Built in the same mould of a goalscoring, all-action midfield, Baker has all the assets to thrive at the highest level. If Chelsea, like they have done with so many other youngsters, don’t take full advantage of having Lewis Baker at their disposal then it will likely be a decision that comes back to bite.
Statistics courtesy of Whoscored unless noted otherwise
Written by Alex Blinston