Lewis Baker has become the seventh player to join the club from Chelsea, following in the footsteps of Jamal Blackman, Kenneth Omeruo, Josh McEachran, Patrick Bamford, Tomas Kalas and Nathaniel Chalobah. We spoke to @chelseayouth to get the lowdown on Boro’s latest signing:
What can Boro fans expect of Baker? Would he fit into the 4-3-3 formation Garry Monk has opted for since taking over?
He’ll absolutely be at home in the 4-3-3 formation; various iterations of it are used throughout the academy at Chelsea and he’s spent the last two years at Vitesse playing in each of the midfield roles in that same shape. He’s most comfortable as an orchestrator – whether that’s the deepest man or the box-to-box player depends largely on how you set up your 4-3-3 but he’s adaptable and can do either to a high standard. He likes to get on the ball and influence play from start to finish and carries a fair goalscoring threat too.
What are his biggest strengths?
He’s garnered a deserved reputation for being legitimately two-footed; not just to the degree that he’s happy to use his weaker foot, but that he doesn’t actually have one. He’ll take set-pieces off either side depending on need and circumstance and that balance of technical excellence in turn makes him a better midfielder as passing angles and opportunities are readily available to him whereas they might not be to someone less comfortable using both feet. He’s a fabulous free-kick taker (he scored four for Vitesse last season alone and countless more going back through the years at Chelsea), has a fine long-range shot on him, and in general likes to get forward and contribute.
Conversely, any notable weaknesses Boro fans should be aware of?
His most notable weakness at this stage is probably in the physical department. He’s not noticeably weak or undersized, but perhaps lacks that combative edge that Premier League managers will want from their players to be able to look after themselves at the top level, and that might be why he’s going to the Championship. He’ll get plenty of opportunities to show that he can handle that side of the game and, in turn, become a more rounded performer
Lewis Baker: Statistically calculated WhoScored strengths, weaknesses and style of play pic.twitter.com/79KTY6WzTB
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) August 10, 2017
He spent two years abroad at Vitesse – how did he fare in the Eredivisie?
His first year there was an up-and-down affair; he was highly-trusted by manager Peter Bosz, who left during the winter break, and didn’t quite enjoy the same confidence from Rob Maas as his replacement. Henk Fraser was installed as Bosz’ permanent successor and he leaned heavily on Baker to be the man to drive the team on last season, and he did exactly that. His 15 goals were second only to Ricky van Wolfswinkel overall and he was integral in helping them to win the Dutch Cup – the club’s first-ever major trophy – and qualifying directly for the Europa League.
What are your thoughts on the move to bring him to the Riverside?
As Chelsea have found Premier League homes for a lot of their bright prospects it’s a little disappointing that Lewis hasn’t been given the same chance but, when you look at the remaining options, they’re all arguably flawed anyway, so playing 40+ games at the top end of a very competitive Championship isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The two-year loan offers stability but also has to come with a break clause to allow him to pursue a top-flight move (or a return to Chelsea) if Boro fail to secure promotion this season, otherwise he runs the risk of becoming far too conditioned to playing at a standard well below where he’ll need to be if he’s to have a future at Stamford Bridge.
A lot of Chelsea fans are disappointed that Baker won’t be given a chance under Conte next season. Do you think he’s at a level where he deserves at chance in the Premier League?
Personally yes; in the right team and under the right manager, he could undoubtedly prove himself to be a Premier League asset. In a summer where the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson is commanding £50m in the transfer market it is slightly disappointing that many have turned a blind eye to Baker, who offers many of the same qualities at a much cheaper rate by comparison. He might have to take the long way around but he should get there eventually.
And finally, what’s the verdict on his future at the club? Will he break into the first team, or can you see this deal becoming permanent?
Whether or not he makes it into the first team won’t necessarily be down to him. We’ve seen deserving candidates come and go at the expense of perpertual short-termism and, until that changes at Chelsea, the best we can hope for is that they’ll fly the nest, excel elsewhere, and maybe be brought back in once the club realises the error of its ways. Nobody’s holding their breath.