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Continuing with our returning loan army analysis series, we take a look at the near-future of 21-year-old Scottish midfielder Billy Gilmour, who spent the 21/22 campaign on loan at newly promoted Norwich City, managed by Daniel Farke before his sacking in November, and then Dean Smith, formerly of Aston Villa. This was the Scots first loan of his senior career after joining Chelsea in 2017.
Signed from Rangers at the age of 16, Gilmour won the FA Youth Cup and U18 Premier League double in the 2017/18 season, signing a professional contract with the club in July 2018. Gilmour broke into the senior side under Frank Lampard during the second half of the 19/20 season - the transfer ban allowing various academy graduates to pick up extensive minutes with the first-team.
Gilmour shone in back-to-back fixtures against Liverpool and Everton in March, playing the full 90 minutes in both and winning Man of the Match accolades in the two ties. In the former game, the midfielder put up three tackles and interceptions, effective in defence and attack as the Blues won 2-0 - a performance described as ‘world class’ by Roy Keane. Chelsea thrashed Everton 4-0 in the following game, the final game before the first lockdown period, with Gilmour playing 91 percent of his attempted passes, including one key pass.
After featuring in a rotation rule under Thomas Tuchel in the 21/22 season, playing just over 250 Premier League minutes, Gilmour joined Norwich on loan last season in a bid to pick up consistent first-team minutes in the top flight. Whilst Norwich certainly don’t play the most expansive and free-flowing football, minutes in the tank for Gilmour was his priority ahead of rejoining the Chelsea squad this summer.
Gilmour started four of the opening five league games in his preferred position as the deepest of three midfielders - the Canaries losing all five and shipping 14 goals. A period of six games on the bench or not in the squad followed, during which Daniel Farke was sacked after a 2-1 away victory at Brentford, Norwich’s fifth point of the season. Gilmour was reintroduced into the team by newly appointed Dean Smith, starting the next eight league games, registering an assist in the 2-1 win over Southampton.
Gilmour also picked up an assist in the 1-0 FA Cup Fourth Round victory away at Wolves, Norwich knocked out in the next round by Liverpool, who also beat the Canaries 3-0 in the Carabao Cup Third Round.
An ankle injury saw Gilmour miss three games in January, before featuring in 12 of the final 16 league games, starting nine. Norwich had a thoroughly disappointing season as a club, relegated upon their return to the Premier League with just five wins, conceding 84, the highest in the league by seven, whilst their goal difference was the worst in the division by 18.
Despite this, Gilmour was able to accumulate a huge amount of minutes across all competitions - the main goal of this loan spell for the season, picking up over 2,000 minutes across the league and domestic cups, the 10th most in the squad. Gilmour also saw involvement in a range of tactical setups and formations across the two different managers - with the Canaries primarily alternating between a 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1 approach, whilst also lining up with a back three on nine occasions.
Statistically, Gilmour was ranked as the club’s third-best performer by SofaScore, second only to Andrew Omobamidele (who only played 380 Premier League minutes) and Grant Hanley. Gilmour also ranked second in the squad for both accurate passes per 90 (39.6) and key passes per 90 (1.0), and joint-first for accurate long balls per 90 with 3.4. When compared to other midfielders in Europes ‘top five’ leagues, Gilmour ranked in the top three percent for pressures in the defensive third per 90 with 9.85 - highly impressive given the quality of football he was playing in the Norwich team.
What does the future hold for Billy Gilmour? The Scot returns to Chelsea this summer with 35 career Premier League appearances to his name at the age of 21, as well as experience in the Champions League and internationally with Scotland, having made 13 senior appearances. Whilst the midfielder would have perhaps been better suited in a more possession-based setup, his overall experience is decent for a player who has just turned 21.
With Jorginho, N’Golo Kante, Mateo Kovacic and Ruben Loftus-Cheek occupying central areas at the club currently, and Chelsea extensively linked to the likes of Declan Rice and, more recently, Ibrahim Sangare of PSV Eindhoven, minutes may be hard to come by for Gilmour looking ahead to the 22/23 campaign, with the youngster keen to be an integral member of a side’s starting XI next season.
Gilmour has been recently linked with a loan move to Frank Lampard’s Everton, who gave the Scot his senior debut in July 2019 in a pre-season friendly against Bohemians FC. This could be a smart move - Gilmour is well-known and trusted by Lampard, the midfielder can pick up more experience in the Premier League, and the youngster can play higher quality football with more talented teammates at Goodison Park.
Gilmour may be persuaded to leave Stamford Bridge permanently and follow in the footsteps of Jamal Musiala, Jeremie Boga, Tino Livramento, Marc Guehi and others in flourishing post-Cobham, however this would be a huge shame for Chelsea as the youngster is immensely talented and provides a rare and unique profile in midfield in the mould of teammate Jorginho.
Another loan seems to be the best option, although it will have to be a smart and astute move this time around.