Antonio Conte has hailed Tammy Abraham as the future of Chelsea, following the 19-year-old loanee's impressive start to the season at Bristol City. The Italian boss added that Nathaniel Chalobah, Ola Aina, Dominic Solanke and Ruben Loftus-Cheek are also proving the good health of the Stamford Bridge academy, with the quartet in line for first-team opportunities when the Blues visit West Ham United on Wednesday night (26 October) for the EFL Cup Fourth Round.
Guus Hiddink handed Abraham his first-team debut last season during a Premier League game against Liverpool. However, Conte decided to send the prospect to Bristol during the summer, following the return of Dominic Solanke from Vitesse and the signing of Michy Batshuayi.
The striker has been a sensation in the Championship, scoring 11 goals in 17 appearances while also netting a brace on his full debut for the England Under-21 side during a 5-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Abraham is expected to remain at Ashton Gate, until the end of the season but Conte has now suggested that he could have a big role at Stamford Bridge in the near-future.
"Abraham is another young player who is the future for Chelsea, for sure," Conte said in the press conference ahead of the derby at West Ham. "He's very young. I saw him only one week during the pre-season in America. Then we decided to send him to play every game and get experience, then come back for us. He has great potential in the technical and physical aspects."
Conte has already showed faith in the Chelsea academy during the opening part of the season, giving playing time to Aina, Loftus-Cheek and Chalobah, with the latter having played a part in the last three consecutive victories over Hull City, Leicester City and Manchester United. The trio of youngsters, as well 19-year-old Solanke, could also be handed a chance to impress against West Ham – but Conte pointed out that should any of them play it will be because they deserved it, rather than out of a sense of charity.
"Our academy is working very well. Also in my squad we have Nathaniel Chalobah, Ola Aina, Dominic Solanke, Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Four young players of the academy. It's fantastic and if they deserve to play, they will play," the boss added.
"This competition is an important one. It can permit you to see some young players who are working well and check on their development. It's important to send the right message; tomorrow we want to win. Then, if I decide to put some young players in the starting 11 it's only because I trust them, not to give a gift to someone."
Another young player who could have a chance to prove himself in the EFL Cup is Batshuayi, after the Belgium international led the attacking line against Leicester City in the previous round. Conte has restricted his signing's game time due to the impressive form of Diego Costa in the Premier League but insists he has full faith in the Belgian, having brought him from Marseille over the summer in a £33m deal.
"The confidence for Michy must be high because he's a young player. He can make big improvements; he has great quality in the technical and physical aspects. He's working very well. He's started two games and I have full confidence in him," Conte said. "I'm sure if he plays he will have a good game. When you are in a great team and you have the possibility to work every day with great players and learn a lot of things it's very good for him. We trust in him a lot. He must continue to work and exploit the moments he plays."