Twelve months ago, following the conclusion of the 2018/19 season, Chelsea had just dispatched Arsenal in the Europa League final and had rejoined Europe’s elite in the Champions League, after finishing third in the Premier League. If you would have told a Chelsea supporter that a year on club icon Frank Lampard would be overseeing a youth revolution and Tammy Abraham would be the top scorer, then many would have chuckled at such a fantasy.
It seems poetic that two of Chelsea’s big answers to their next chapter would be involved in the Championship Play-Off Final only a couple of days before the Europa League triumph. Frank Lampard coaching Derby County and Tammy Abraham leading the line for Aston Villa on loan from the Blues. Jump forward three months and Lampard is in the Chelsea dugout overseeing the curtain raiser at Old Trafford and Abraham is leading the Blue line.
There were many doubts and aspersions cast over Abraham before a ball had even been kicked this campaign. Abraham, despite flourishing in youth levels and finding the net consistently on loan for Bristol City and Aston Villa, had supporters doubting the youngster’s capability to carry the burden of Chelsea’s No.9 shirt.
A burden that has hung heavy on some the game’s biggest names, from Alvaro Morata to Fernando Torres – older, more expensive and heavier reputations.
Abraham got his senior debut in the final days of the 2015/16 season under Guus Hiddink. Firstly at Anfield replacing Bertrand Traore and then a home debut against the newly-crowned Premier League Champions Leicester City. Both games ended 1-1 and quickly escaped the memory of most as Chelsea were happy to see the back of a mostly dismal nine months.
Although these were landmark days for the then 18-year-old, the prospect of a homegrown player getting close to being a regular in the first team was deemed a fantasy. During that summer, Abraham was sent out on loan to Bristol City to gain valuable first-team experience and get his first proper taste of senior football.
For Abraham, the loan exceeded all expectations. He became the Robins‘ top goalscorer, found the net 26 times and was awarded the club’s Player and Young Player of the Year to round off a superb nine months. Lee Johnson, manager of Bristol City, has since spoken about Abraham’s time at the club and the close relationship him and Tammy both had during that loan spell.
When speaking to Bristol Live, Johnson touched on an incident which occurred off the pitch as Abraham was reported to have crashed a car after leaving the club’s training ground in 2017 and was found in tears at the side of the road.
“In any season, you go through various emotions with any individual. As a coach you have to be parent, best mate, uncle, teacher, philosopher. You have to hit them with the stick occasionally but be able to use all the tools in your bag. And that was something that he was so upset about but we got him through it and he was alright in the end.
“He did the honourable thing, like he should do, and yeah it was something that, of course, made our bond stronger.”
Johnson and Abraham still exchanged texts post his time in Bristol and that bond clearly helped the striker to learn and grow from his mistakes – not only as a player, but also as a man.
Abraham returned to west London and the spirit was completely different.
Chelsea had just been crowned Champions under the guidance of Antonio Conte. The club looked set to banish the anomaly of the 2015/16 debacle and continue to challenge at the top of the English game. The biggest story of that summer was the very public fallout and shunning of striker Diego Costa, who had been the club’s top scorer the previous season, once again being a terror for opposition defenders as the Blues stormed to glory.
His departure and return to Atletico Madrid took until early September to be confirmed once the player went AWOL. In response to losing 22 goals from one Spaniard, Chelsea responded by replacing him with another in Alvaro Morata to the tune of a £60m transfer fee.
The signing was the marquee, big fee and “ready now” profile that the club had been used to, and the Blues had their new striker.
Weeks earlier, Chelsea’s younger striker, Abraham, had been once again sent out on loan. This time securing a move to a Premier League club in Swansea City. This was the next natural progression for Abraham who would test himself in the top tier with the hope of returning to play for his boyhood club at the end of his spell in South Wales.
However, the campaign would prove a reality check for the youngster who would only find the net 5 times in 31 appearances, as the Swans endured a miserable campaign that would end in relegation to the Championship.
Speaking about the loan, Abraham expressed how it was extremely beneficial to his development despite being a painful experience.
“It was a good learning curve going to a team like Swansea. We didn’t create a lot of chances and we weren’t on the ball as much. With Chelsea, growing up in the Academy, I was used to winning things, scoring a load of goals; but at Swansea I learned the other side to football in the Premier League. It made me into a man even quicker.”
Abraham, unlike Bristol City and the close connection he made with Lee Johnson, had to work under two managers, as Carlos Carvalhal came in to replace Paul Clement who was dismissed in December of 2017.
At the end of 2017/18, Abraham returned once again to a different Chelsea.
The club had endured a pretty miserable campaign as the consistent conflict between Antonio Conte and the club’s hierarchy appeared to seep onto the pitch. Despite being 2nd on New Year’s Day, form plummeted in the second half of the season causing Chelsea to eventually miss out on Champions League qualification.
Another key issue that made matters worse was that Alvaro Morata hadn’t hit the heights his early season form had promised. Enduring a horrid winter period where his confidence evaporated, and coupled with some injury setbacks, Morata was showing all the signs of a busted flush, and the comparisons to Fernando Torres were already being made.
Conte left and the Maurizio Sarri reign began. Unlike the previous year, Abraham joined the first team squad for pre-season and started the last warm-up game at home to Lyon.
However, once again, Chelsea’s Head Coach would opt for experience and name status over raw talent.
Although Tammy was told he was wanted by the club, it was once again deemed best for both parties that the striker gain more first team minutes elsewhere. Tammy joined Aston Villa, where John Terry would arrive with Dean Smith as a coach not long after.
The second tier would once again prove fruitful for the forward who quickly settled and found the net frequently in a promotion chasing Villa outfit.
Terry, when speaking to the club’s in-house channel in January of 2019, gave high praise when sharing his thoughts about Abraham’s development and confidence.
“He’s been incredible. Obviously I know him very well when I used to play against him at Chelsea. He’s one of those players that when I used to see an academy player come over and train with the first team, me and Gary Cahill used to look at each other and go ‘oh no, here we go,’ because you knew he was gonna put himself about.
“He was gonna run the channels, score goals, be hungry, be passionate. The older players in the group wanted a nice easy day against the kind of middle-aged striker, but Tammy always posed a big threat coming up against us, and I knew he’d go on to do really well”.
Terry’s glowing appraisal from a player of his stature would have impacted people in and around Chelsea monitoring Abraham’s form closely. Another individual who would’ve likely been affected by Terry’s comments was close friend and peer Frank Lampard, who was managing Derby at the time.
Lampard would have first hand experience of Abraham’s quality, as he would prove a menace to the Rams – finding the net home and away as the Villans put Derby to the sword.
The prolific forward would end the season with 26 goals in 40 appearances, as Aston Villa would reclaim their Premier League status defeating, in poetic fashion, Derby in the Play-Off final.
A transfer ban and a bold appointment later, Abraham would return to SW6 and a different club for the third time, but for the first time a club that would finally give him a realistic chance to stake his claim as the main man.
During pre-season, it appeared a straight shootout between Abraham, a returning Michy Batshuayi and Olivier Giroud to claim the number one spot. All three of Lampard’s strikers found the net early on, but as the season edged closer, Abraham soon found his name in the starting eleven more frequently than his competition.
Sadly, this exciting opportunity was tarred by a tirade of racist abuse that Abraham was subjected to over social media when the striker had his penalty saved against Liverpool in the Super Cup shootout five days into the new campaign.
Already comparisons were being made to another young striker who missed a decisive penalty in the Super Cup – Romelu Lukaku. Jose Mourinho would subsequently send Lukaku out on loan to Everton and the Belgian would never play for Chelsea again.
However, Lampard, the club and Abraham himself responded in the perfect manner.
Abraham would score an impressive double against Norwich in late August, following it up with another double at home to Sheffield United a week later. The international break did not slow the forward down as Abraham would net his first Chelsea hat-trick away to Wolves in a stunning display of finished. The third goal was the most impressive, as he received a pass from Jorginho before getting the ball neatly out of his feet, shrugging off Connor Coady and cooly slotting the ball past a stranded Rui Patrício.
Although the extraordinary rate of 7 league goals in three outings would slow down, Abraham would still find himself key to Lampard’s early success. Openers against Southampton, Watford and Crystal Palace set the vibrant Blues off the victory, and it was Abraham’s all round play, coupled with his eye for goal, that was elevating him above his competition.
Like Chelsea’s form which dwindled and became inconsistent during the winter months, Abraham’s goals dried up. A series of disappointing home defeats against low-blocks muted some of the early season hype around Abraham. However, the striker’s persistence and work rate never let up. The winner away at Arsenal at the end of December will go down as arguably his best moment of the season, turning away smartly and firing the ball between the legs of Bernd Leno. Tammy sprinted away pumping his arms like a former Blues striker did so regularly against the Gunners.
Unfortunately for Abraham, the return fixture against the North London club would see him suffer an ankle injury that halted his season. This setback passed the goalscoring reigns to Olivier Giroud for the time being. The lockdown period and the halt to competitive action has aided Abraham’s rehabilitation who aims to play a major role in the remaining games of Chelsea’s season once the Premier League restarts.
Abraham currently sits on a tally of 15, which is the best in the current squad. Even predicting that number seemed farcical to some in the summer, so all criticism of Abraham’s season must be contextualised with the expectations on him before the season began. Diego Costa hit 20 goals in his first season in Blue, which by all accounts was a brilliant return helping Chelsea reclaim the Premier League title.
At only 22, Abraham is five off that tally and could still reach it by the campagin’s conclusion.
Frustrations have been there for the striker in some of the lower moments, and a lack of anticipation to be able to get onto enticing crosses have restricted Chelsea’s goalscoring output. A 2-2 draw with Leicester in February highlighted where Abraham’s game still needs fine tuning by missing a string of Reece James crosses and hitting the air with a shot.
In an article by Liam Twomey in The Athletic on the striker, Twomey points out that stats give a wider picture on Abraham’s season.
“Abraham’s 13 Premier League goals have come from 60 shots (excluding blocks), which translates to a conversion rate of 21.7 per cent. This is considerably lower than the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (34.7 per cent) and Aguero (28.6 per cent), but higher than Salah (19.7 per cent) and Rashford (17.3 per cent).
“Abraham’s expected goals per 90 minutes (xG90) also marks him out as one of the most consistently dangerous strikers in the Premier League this season. Once penalties are excluded, his value of 0.57 ranks third behind only Dominic Calvert-Lewin (0.64) and Aguero (0.76) among the Premier League’s top 10 goalscorers in 2019-20.”
Even without the intricate look at statistics, the naked eye shows how dangerous Abraham can be and why most Chelsea fans feel positively towards the forward’s future.
The challenge next season will be spreading out his goals further across the months rather than the quick flurry we saw in August and September. Diego Costa and Didier Drogba both became masters of this in their Chelsea careers, and it could be the test of Abraham to score more consistently when Chelsea’s general form dips in order to get his team through challenging periods.
Even if his season ends with 15, it will be one of great development and learning for Abraham who has finally got a chance that seemed unthinkable only a year ago. Drawn out contract negotiations with the club have cast a little doubt over his future, whilst Chelsea are linked with the likes of Moussa Dembele and Timo Werner. There is still a question over whether Lampard will continue to back Abraham as his main striker or invest heavily on a new one.
Though there is no denying that after the struggles of the likes of Morata and Higuain, Abraham has already proved why he is a better option for Chelsea to stick with. Patience is key with Lampard’s project, and Tammy’s growing pains into a Premier League striker need that time to flourish.
If that time is given, Abraham might be the club’s next great goalscorer.
Edited by: Dan