Fourteen years ago, Conor Gallagher joined Chelsea at the age of eight with aspirations of becoming a first team regular one day. Those aspirations are on the brink of becoming a reality. Loans across the country at Charlton Athletic, Swansea City, West Brom and currently Crystal Palace have seen him develop into one of the most exciting English prospects in the game.
International recognition has come in tandem with his club success with appearances at all England age groups including being a member of the U17 World Cup winning squad in 2017. Most recently he has been called up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad and won man of the match in his third appearance against Switzerland.
Such recognition has catapulted him into the centre of attention and with many clubs waiting to pounce, it is time Chelsea made him a regular at Stamford Bridge.
Understanding the player
Growing up, Frank Lampard was someone Gallagher idolised, and that is apparent in several areas of his game. A tenacious box to box midfielder with an eye for goal and not afraid to help out in whatever way he can defensively.
After winning Chelsea Academy Player of the Year in 2018/19, Gallagher’s first taste of senior football came with Championship side Charlton. Six goals and two assists would come in the few months he was at the club playing across a range of position but mainly in a deeper midfield role.
For the second half of 2019/20 he moved to Swansea. He predominantly played as a number eight and was tasked with helping out in attack and defence leaving nothing out on the pitch with his work rate. No goals came during the spell, but his creative influence was felt with seven assists.
A first Premier League loan would follow in 2021/22 with newly promoted West Brom where once again he tended to play in front of a deeper lying midfielder and wasn’t given too much attacking responsibility. This was down to having Matheus Pereira in front of him and the system deployed by the manager. His effort and hunger to help defensively were apparent again although on the ball his decision making ability was found to be lacking at times.
Back to the present and under Patrick Viera’s stewardship at Crystal Palace, the Englishman has blossomed into a whole new player. With the likes of Will Hughes, Cheikhou Kouyate, Luka Milivojevic and Jeffrey Schlupp able to play a deep midfield role this has given Gallagher greater attacking freedom and something he has enjoyed. Goals have become a regular part of his armoury with eight in 30 appearances. This is alongside five assists. His goal on the counter to seal a 2-0 win away from home against Manchester City was symbolic of that and his time at the Eagles so far.
The situation back home at Chelsea
Chelsea’s midfielders broke records and achieved lots of individual recognition for their performances last season. Both Jorginho and N’golo Kante were in the top five of the Ballon D’Or whilst Mason Mount was in the top 20. Alongside them is Mateo Kovacic who has made great strides in his game, particularly in attack, this season. Also, loanee Saul Niguez who isn’t expected to be around next season and another academy graduate in Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Out of the picture for now is Billy Gilmour out on loan at Norwich City.
Where would he fit in?
Trying to break into the Chelsea first team is hard enough in itself but midfield is even more hotly contested. However, Gallagher offers something different.
If Thomas Tuchel was to stick with the tried and tested 3-4-3 system, Gallagher’s creative spark on the ball, intensity and willingness to defend would make him suited to the role of the two central midfielders against sides who deploy a low block. Jorginho and Kante tend to notably struggle against these sides although the Italian does have a magic pass in him as seen against Newcastle recently.
However, a change in system at the club would suit the midfielder better. A switch to either 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 would allow him to showcase his attacking strengths and help the Blues’ misfiring attackers out with goals. Similarly, to how Mount was used by Lampard in his 4-3-3 would suit him well.
There were calls from some to keep him at the club for this season, but the strides Gallagher has made on loan at Crystal Palace this season will stand him in good stead for the rest of his career. As a midfielder that is looking more complete by the game, he would add great value and flexibility to Chelsea That is why the time is now to integrate him into the Champions League winners squad, before fans are left to rue another one that got away.
Written and edited by Harrison (@hburridge2)