For all of Chelsea’s defensive woes this season, it’s been a privilege to watch the breakthrough and development of Fikayo Tomori.
Over the summer, the controversial departure of David Luiz and the end of an era for Gary Cahill opened up two new centre-back spots at Stamford Bridge. Kurt Zouma returned from his loan at Everton to take one of them, as Tomori completed the centre-back quartet going into the new season.
As was the case for Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount, Tomori’s consecutive loans finally paid off with his introduction into the first team. Successive spells at Brighton, Hull City and Derby County were valuable experience for the 22-year-old, but his 14-year journey through the Chelsea ranks to the senior squad was complete.
Tomori has enjoyed a decent season, albeit at a reduced role in the starting eleven. The Englishman has played 52.4% of the Blues’ games this season, which may seem low, but is actually the second highest among the central defenders – only Zouma has featured more.
A substitute for the opening three Premier League games, Tomori’s ‘second’ Chelsea debut came in a half hour cameo in the Super Cup defeat to Liverpool. His league debut for the season came soon after, playing the full 90 minutes in the underwhelming draw with Sheffield United.
Chelsea fans had yet to see a full glimpse of Tomori – until a memorable trip to Molineux.
The Blues travelled to Wolves knowing they were in for a tough test, having failed to beat them in the league the previous season. Tomori joined Antonio Rüdiger and Andreas Christensen in a back three, a structure which would prove crucial in the long term.
A quiet opening half hour saw no goals, but Chelsea were getting closer to hitting their stride. A tackle on Mount took the ball away from him, taking it away and seemingly out of danger. But, of all the people to be in position to line up a shot, the ball rolled perfectly into the pass of Tomori.
No one was really expecting anything. A centre-back running onto a long shot doesn’t often end well, but the cries of ‘Shoot!’ from the Chelsea faithful were clear as day. Players can resist the urge – even if thousands of their fans encourage them in a chorus – but when it’s there for the taking, what other choice do you have?
With the perfect run and all the time in the world, Tomori hit it first time. In less than a second, the ball flew from his right foot into the top corner. Rui Patrício had no chance. No one saw it coming, except Tomori.
That strike was one of the goals of the seasons for the Blues, not least because it came from a defender to score their first ever goal for the club. The joy was evident from Tomori, the players and the fans, who had just witnessed a beautiful goal. Some way to open your Chelsea goalscoring account.
Tomori’s goal against Wolves was not only his season highlight, but his finest moment in a Chelsea shirt so far. It paved the way for an emphatic 5-2 win at the expense of Wolves, and while Abraham stole the show with his superb hat-trick, Tomori deserved his own credit for that goal alone.
Although the choice for Tomori’s season highlight was clear, that’s not to say that he’s had a handful of memorable moments in blue.
The league defeat to Liverpool was a bitter pill to swallow, but Tomori had an excellent individual performance at Stamford Bridge. Having to deal with the Reds’ explosive trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, the youngster was handed the responsibility of keeping the former quiet.
And didn’t he do just that.
Despite losing 2-1, Tomori was excellent in handling Salah, dominating their battle and making some fantastic tackles. It was a positive sign for the future, showing his quality to be able to handle of the finest attacking players in the country.
A similar performance away to Ajax also earned plaudits, with his successful duel with new Chelsea arrival Hakim Ziyech. An England debut was a testament to his breakthrough season, making his Three Lions debut away to Kosovo after turning down Nigeria and Canada.
Tomori can look back on this season fondly, making his big breakthrough and enjoying moments that he will enjoy for the rest of his career. He will always remember this campaign for his first Chelsea goal, his England debut and his journey into the first team.
There are still improvements to be made, but at 22 he is making sound progress at Stamford Bridge. He has shown his quality and composure in defence, and his accurate range of passing across the pitch has been an asset to Frank Lampard’s side. It has been wonderful to watch him grow as a player, something which will surely continue.
Tomori can and will be a part of Chelsea’s defence for years to come – this season is just the start of the tale of Fikayo Tomori.
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Edited by: Dan