Can City make a success of Scotland star's loan from Chelsea?
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Pundits and supporters in Scotland are raving about Billy Gilmour again after the on-loan Chelsea midfielder’s latest impressive display on the international stage, prompting fresh questions from Norwich City fans.
Even long-serving Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling weighed in after Saturday’s 3-2 win over Israel in Glasgow, taking to Twitter to say: “Scratching my head as to why Billy Gilmour does not start every game for Norwich. Brilliant for Scotland.”
With Chelsea fans again out in force online to question why their much-hyped talent hasn’t found his feet with the Canaries yet, plenty of City supporters were quick to point out a few facts.
Firstly, Israel sit 80th in the Fifa rankings and would have very little chance against top-class Premier League sides such as Liverpool, Manchester City, Everton, Arsenal and Leicester – all of whom Norwich have faced in their seven games since promotion.
Secondly, only six City outfield players have started more league games than the 20-year-old so far this season.
And lastly, the impressive start to Norwich life from Norway international Mathias Normann has changed the complexion of Gilmour’s challenge.
Yet with the youngster starting and Canaries colleague Kenny McLean an unused substitute for Scotland on Saturday, the reverse of the situation as Daniel Farke’s team ground out a much needed 0-0 draw at Burnley the previous weekend, it’s understandable why external observers may be confused.
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That game at Turf Moor ahead of the international break may have been slightly deceptive though, with McLean’s aerial nous widely seen among City fans as needed against brutal Burnley.
Calls for Gilmour to start that game were minimal but this is a story in its early chapters, with plenty of Norwich followers still hopeful there is much more to come.
22 appearances (8 as sub) - 0 goals, 0 assists
The former Rangers trainee had only made 14 starts for Chelsea before heading out on loan, from a total of 22 senior appearances.
Gilmour hadn’t registered a goal or an assist for the Blues, starting two Premier League victories – over Everton and Crystal Palace – as a deep-lying midfield anchor prior to a knee injury checking his progress for over four months.
A few under-23 appearances helped recover full fitness last season as he returned to first-team contention, starting a Europa League dead rubber against Krasnodar and FA Cup ties against lower-level opposition.
With Frank Lampard gone, Thomas Tuchel brought Gilmour back into starting action in the top flight at the end of last season, particularly impressing during a 2-1 win away to champions-elect Manchester City and being an unused substitute during the Champions League final triumph over the same opposition.
Despite having started just five Premier League games, the energetic talent forced his way into Scotland's starting XI and was hailed for his display as during a 0-0 draw with England at Wembley during the Euros – only to be thwarted by a spell of Covid-19 isolation.
CITY SPELL SO FAR
6 appearances (1 as sub) - 0 goals, 0 assists
Just seven players banked more minutes during pre-season, with Gilmour starting both of the final two friendlies ahead of Premier League action.
With City fans making clear the belief that Oliver Skipp’s defensive midfield presence hadn’t yet been replaced, it was the young Scot tasked with playing the deepest of a midfield trio in a 4-3-3 formation.
He played every minute of the 3-0 home loss to Liverpool and the 5-0 thrashing at Manchester City, before coming on for the final 20 minutes of a 6-0 romp against Bournemouth in the League Cup with all but one of the goals already scored.
Farke's assessment of those early appearances was: "It reminds me a bit of Oliver Skipp. Different players with different skills but at the beginning, Oliver showed some solid performances, but there was room for improvement, and we backed him and showed him some trust. Then he was outstanding for us. We hope it will be the same with Billy.
“He’s been rock solid so far, many good scenes, and maybe some situations where he could improve, but he has never played consistently at this level for 90 minutes.
"When he adapts to our style, and when we are able to dominate the ball a bit more than against Liverpool and Man City, this will suit his style. I am fully convinced that he will play an important part during the season.”
A 2-1 home defeat to Leicester followed with Gilmour missing a chance to thwart the attack that led to the Foxes’ winner, showing his inexperience.
After the international break - with Normann signed but deemed not ready to start - it was Lukas Rupp starting as the defensive midfielder, as Gilmour stayed on the bench during a 1-0 loss at Arsenal.
Normann was soon in the starting XI and that freed the Chelsea prospect to start in the slightly more advanced role on the right of the midfield three – but it was during a damaging 3-1 loss to Watford which ended in Carrow Road boos.
He returned to the central role for another 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool, this time to a Reds reserve team in the League Cup, as City shifted to a 3-5-2 shape.
Gilmour had caught the eye with some skills and driving runs in the first half, including in the lead up to the penalty from which Christo Tzolis wasted the chance to equalise, but then found himself left on the bench in the Premier League.
McLean and Pierre Lees-Melou retained the roles either side of Normann for a 2-0 loss at Everton and the goalless draw at Burnley, giving Gilmour plenty to ponder as he worked through his shuttle runs in the pouring rain after full-time at Turf Moor.
5 appearances (2 as sub) - 0 goals, 0 assists
The youngster notched his seventh cap on Saturday, having continued as a starter as a deep-lying midfielder in Steve Clarke’s 3-5-2 formation, playing all of a 2-0 defeat away to Group F leaders Denmark in World Cup qualification in September.
That was followed by a narrow 1-0 home win over Moldova and a crucial 1-0 victory in Austria as his busy start to the season continued.
His cause was helped by an eye-catching display on Saturday, being widely credited as a driving force as Scotland surged to a dramatic 3-2 win which has them on course for a play-off place – winning a penalty which Lyndon Dykes’ saw saved just before half-time.
THE NEXT STEP
Unless changes are enforced, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Farke stick with an unchanged line-up when Brighton arrive at Carrow Road on Saturday.
Gilmour appears to be in a straight shootout with McLean and Lees-Melou for one of the roles on either side of Normann, with McLean narrowly keeping his place against Burnley after mistakes for decisive goals against Watford and Everton.
It’s an early test of his mental strength as he tries to prove that his quality on the ball and energy can play a role for a promoted team in the midst of a painful return to Premier League life.
As for so many young players striving for chances to impress, Gilmour must take his opportunity when it arrives and show that he can thrive amid the pressure of a survival scrap.
His technical ability is clear to see but his lack of physicality and questionable defensive positioning have contributed to an early struggle to convince - a battle he needs to win to have a chance of being near the Chelsea team next season.
Harry Kane and Patrick Bamford both had disappointing Premier League loans at City previously and needed Championship experience before emerging.
Gilmour doesn't turn 21 until next June, so has plenty of time on his side but is also likely to get more chances at Norwich to make his mark in the top flight, if he avoids frustration and remains patient.