Defender | Chelsea | Wales
Part midfielder, part centre-half and seemingly sharing the same barber, Ethan Ampadu has all the hallmarks of a long-term successor to Chelsea defender David Luiz. Intriguingly for a player so young, his performances to date haven’t been quite so error-riddled, albeit his pool of appearances is far shallower than the Brazilian’s - who appears to be on a one-man mission to bring back the football bloopers DVD fad.
Rory McGrath will be hoping that aspect of Luiz’s game gleans onto his young protégé. But jesting aside, it’s Ampadu’s quality on the ball that stands out most. We all know how greatly that’s demanded from young centre-backs these days, and Ampadu’s confidence and ability in possession is so impressive that the 18-year-old has featured almost exclusively as a midfielder for Wales, propping up an engine room that also includes Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey.
2018 has been…
Progressive at times, frustrating at others.
Ampadu will be disappointed that he’s yet to make his first Premier League start after being given his debut from the bench by Antonio Conte at the end of 2017, but he featured thrice and started twice in the FA Cup last season as Chelsea went on to win the accolade, most notably playing a prominent role in a clean sheet against Norwich City, although injury would rule him out of the latter rounds.
Maurizio Sarri hasn’t been quite so trusting of Ampadu despite issuing the Welshman a few runouts during his first pre-season at Stamford Bridge, but perhaps that’s more a matter of the sheer level of depth Chelsea now have in defence rather than any significant shortcomings on the youngster’s part. He certainly suits Sarri’s style of play.
Accordingly, Ampadu’s had to gain experience with his national team, which already makes the decision to pick Wales over England seem like the right one, with Ryan Giggs calling upon the youngster in three of the Dragons’ four Nations League ties. That included a start in the 4-1 demolition of Ireland, in which Ampadu won the ball in midfield, charged forward and slid in Ramsey for the third goal - a superb first assist in international football.
Hopefully some more cup outings for Chelsea at the start of 2019, giving Ampadu the experience he needs to progress into the top ball-playing defender he’s capable of becoming and the game-time to seal a place in Giggs’ squad when Wales’ Euro 2020 qualifying campaign begins in March.
On that note though, it’s key Ampadu nails down one position sooner rather than later. Luiz is testament of never really becoming a master of either trade having been constantly rotated between the two. Centre-back seems more likely for Ampadu, simply because defenders who can bring the ball out are in such hot demand these days, so it’s imperative he takes his opportunities to impress there once they arise.