Premier League • England

How the Chelsea loan army are faring away from Stamford Bridge: Lukaku, Kepa…

Ryan Baldi
Kepa Arrizabalaga, Romelu Lukaku, Mason Burstow, Chelsea

Kepa Arrizabalaga, Romelu Lukaku and Mason Burstow are all away from Chelsea on loans

Compared to their unprecedented activity last summer, the January transfer window passed relatively uneventfully for Chelsea, with the deadline-day loan of Armando Broja to Fulham their most notable piece of business for the month.

Promising full-back Ian Maatsen also departed on a temporary basis, joining Borussia Dortmund until the end of the season, while youngsters Alex Matos, David Datro Fofana and Andrey Santos also left on loan deals.

Those short-term exits take Chelsea’s number of first-team players currently out on loan to 12.

Forgotten man Hakim Ziyech’s summer loan switch to Galatasaray included an obligation for the Turkish club to buy the Chelsea player at the end of the season; likewise young full-back Lewis Hall’s move to Newcastle, which will see the Blues receive £35million for the England under-21 international.

But what of the remaining members of Chelsea’s sizeable loan army? Here’s all you need to know about where they are, how they’re performing and what is likely next for them.

Romelu Lukaku – Roma

Having worked with the Special One twice previously in his career, Lukaku linked up with Jose Mourinho again last summer, this time at Roma.

The Belgian striker spent last season on loan with Inter Milan after underperforming following his £100million return to Stamford Bridge in 2021. Juventus were keen to take him on loan for this season, but the 30-year-old instead opted for Roma in a deal that reportedly netted Chelsea £8million.

And while there is no obligation to buy written into the agreement between the Blues and the side from Italy’s capital, the renegotiated terms Lukaku agreed with Chelsea before his return to Serie A last summer means it’s almost certain he won’t play for the Premier League side again, with a permanent switch to Italy likely.

In addition to agreeing to lower wages, a £37million release clause was written into the player’s contract.

Mourinho won’t be back at the Stadio Olimpico next season – the Portuguese coach was sacked earlier this month with Roma ninth in the table – but with a respectable return of 15 goals in 26 games and an affordable release clause, there is a feasible route to a Roma return for Lukaku

Kepa Arrizabalaga – Real Madrid

That Real Madrid only moved for him out of desperation – following a season-ending injury to Thibaut Courtois – and that Chelsea were so willing to allow him to leave illustrates just how far Kepa’s stock has fallen since the Blues made him the most expensive goalkeeper in the world in 2018.

Chelsea had already replaced the outgoing Spain international with the £25million signing of Robert Sanchez from Brighton. And that was the second time they had been convinced to spend big on a goalkeeper since Kepa’s arrival, having previously paid £22 million for Edouard Mendy to usurp the Spaniard between the sticks.

With Champions League qualification unlikely and concerns over their ability to adhere to the Premier League’s new Profit & Sustainability rules, Chelsea are said to be keen on securing a permanent exit for Kepa to fund further spending this summer.

But if they are able to find a new home for the 29-year-old – who has 18 months remaining on a £180,000-a-week contract – they will recoup only a fraction of the £71million they paid Athletic Bilbao for his signature.

According to the Evening Standard, Madrid are less than enthralled with the goalkeeper’s performances to date, with high-profile errors in a recent Super Cup victory over rivals Atletico Madrid leading to calls for Kepa to be dropped. A bid to extend his Bernabeu stay beyond the summer is deemed unlikely.

Mason Burstow – Sunderland

Mauricio Pochettino’s usage of Burstow in the early weeks of the 2023-24 season hinted at the Chelsea manager’s faith in the 20-year-old forward.

Signed from Charlton in 2022, the young striker made two substitute’s appearances in the Premier League and started a 2-1 EFL Cup victory over AFC Wimbledon on 30 August.

A season-long loan to Sunderland in the Championship was secured on the final day of the summer transfer window in a switch seemingly carefully designed to aid the England under-20 star’s development.

It hasn’t been plain sailing for Burstow thus far in the second tier, though. Part of a youthful squad at the Stadium of Light, he is not always a starter. A first goal for the Black Cats only arrived on 27 January, in his 14th appearance for the club.

It is still far too early to determine Burstow’s long-term prospects at Stamford Bridge. A strong finish to the Championship season with Sunderland would aid his chances of figuring in Pochettino’s future plans.

Bashir Humphreys – Swansea City

First-team debuts don’t come much more difficult than the one Humphreys was handed by Graham Potter in January 2023. The England under-21 international was selected to start against Manchester City in a third-round FA Cup tie at the Etihad.

Although it was a day to forget from a Chelsea perspective, with a much-changed Blues side beaten 4-0, Humphreys banked a valuable 90 minutes’ experience. By the end of the month, he’d been sent to Germany to further bolster his first-team exposure, loaned to second-tier side Paderborn for the rest of the season.

The 20-year-old was sent out on loan against last summer – this time to Swansea City in the Championship – but not before penning a new four-year contract at Stamford Bridge, an indicator of his parent club’s belief in his potential.

With Swansea 17th in the table, it has been a testing campaign for the technically gifted and athletic centre-back. But with 20 starts already under his belt at the Liberty Stadium, Humphreys has racked up almost 3,000 minutes of first-team action between two loan spells over the last 12 months.

Gabriel Slonina – KAS Eupen

A 2022 signing from Chicago Fire, Slonina is yet to make a first-team appearance for Chelsea, but hopes are high for the 19-year-old American goalkeeper.

Imposing and athletic, the 6ft 4ins shot-stopper was handed a senior international debut in January last year, starting for the USMNT against Serbia and making a string of impressive saves in a 2-1 defeat.

Slonina joined Belgian side KAS Eupen on loan in August and has been the club’s regular No.1 ever since. A 5-0 defeat to Club Brugge on his debut marked a difficult start to life in the Pro League for the Chelsea teenager, but a first clean sheet arrived in October and he has added two more in his last three games.

Angelo Gabriel – Strasbourg

Last summer, Chelsea spent £13 million to sign Angelo from Santos, where the 19-year-old Brazilian had impressed sufficiently to earn comparisons to Neymar.

His performances during the Blues’ pre-season tour of the United States elicited excitement among fans and reportedly led to Pochettino wanting to keep Santos as part of his squad for the looming campaign. But a season-long loan to Strasbourg – where former Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira is manager – was brokered to further the skilful winger’s development.

Although not a regular starter for the Ligue 1 side, with half of his appearances coming from the bench, the gifted left-footer has shown glimpses of the talent and creativity that convinced Chelsea to fend off rival interest from Barcelona to sign him, earning Strasbourg’s Player of the Month award back in September.

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