Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Fulham could feature on a David Attenborough documentary.
And here we have…a lesser-spotted Billy Gilmour…roaming around in his natural habitat.
With Thomas Tuchel keen to give N’Golo Kante and Jorginho a well-deserved rest, Gilmour was handed his first Premier League appearance under the new boss and just his third in all competitions, and he did alright.
Deployed in an unorthodox double-six alongside Mason Mount, Gilmour was the primary link between Chelsea’s defence and midfield. The Scot was always an option for his team-mates and usually did well in the face of Fulham’s high press, spraying passes around the field with typical ease.
Despite being just 19 years old, Gilmour showed his confidence and composure up against senior pros. He was not scared of the dirty work and would throw his body at any Fulham player who came his way.
The problem, however, is that he lost most of those duels.
Defensively, Gilmour looked more than a little shaky, and on paper, it looked like he still has a lot of work to do before he is ready to tussle with seniors on a regular basis. Fortunately for the teenager, that’s not the case.
This game saw Gilmour lining up against the attack-minded Mount, who demonstrated that he doesn’t have the positional discipline to play as a six. He was often flying forward to get involved in attacks and leaving his team-mate exposed in midfield.
For the record, that’s fine. Mount is not a six and will never be played there consistently, and it was his brilliance in attack that led to Kai Havertz’s opening goal. Without Mount, that strike doesn’t happen. He’s an outstanding footballer…just not as a six.
With Mount caught in the final third and Hakim Ziyech not doing the dirty work either, the 5’7 Gilmour was left on an island against towering behemoths like Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Mario Lemina and Josh Maja.
Gilmour was regularly mauled by that kind of physicality, which is why Kante was brought off the bench for the last 25 minutes. The Frenchman might not be an immovable object either, but he does have the know-how when it comes to dealing with that level of physicality – something Gilmour needs to learn.
Kante has obviously figured it out, but for Gilmour, Jorginho is a better role model. The Italian has this uncanny ability to manipulate space to avoid needing to get into those physical battles, which is how he can stay afloat in midfield despite not actually being a great defender. It’s brain over brawn.
At 19, Gilmour has all the time in the world to work on those little issues, it’s not as if he’s completely hopeless in that field either. He won 3/8 on the ground and 1/3 in the air, so there’s obviously something to build on.
Put in a team alongside Kante or Jorginho, Gilmour would get the assistance he needs to ease him into senior football. That extra support would free him up to play his natural game, and we all know just how amazing he can be when firing on all cylinders.
When given the chance to play his natural game, Gilmour did a solid job against Fulham, and Tuchel made it clear that his talents had not gone unnoticed.
“Very, very good,” he told Chelsea TV when asked about Gilmour’s performance. “He’s a confident guy, he’s well aware of his qualities, which is good.
“It was not necessary for him to convince me today because I’m already convinced, otherwise I would not have picked him for the lineup. So it was necessary that he plays his part, that he helps the team, and this is what he did. I’m happy for him.”
Gilmour still has work to do, but early signs have been incredibly encouraging. With just a little more support, the Scot could blossom into a core part of the first team.
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