Conor Gallagher: Crystal Palace loan spell a chance to establish identity

Ross Jackson
Conor Gallagher has secured a loan move to Crystal Palace
Conor Gallagher has secured a loan move to Crystal Palace / Visionhaus/Getty Images

You may think this cynical, given he's only 21, but it's becoming hard to believe that Conor Gallagher will ever be a part of the first-team set-up at Chelsea.

The Blues are no strangers to utilising the loan market in a bid to offer their academy graduates a platform to showcase and hone their skills, yet their current crop of homegrown players in the squad would suggest Gallagher's chance may already have passed.

Reece James, Mason Mount and Callum Hudson-Odoi have a combined total of three loan spells away from Stamford Bridge between them, while Gallagher has just sealed his fourth temporary move to pastures new.

The only Chelsea academy graduate in the current squad to even come close to Gallagher's tally of four loan spells away from west London is Tammy Abraham - with the forward being shipped out on three separate occasions - and the Blues' desperation to offload him this summer probably tells you how well that's going.

We could be totally wrong, but given the competition places in Chelsea's star-studded midfield right now, it seems like Gallagher's move to Crystal Palace is purely an opportunity to put himself in the shop window - and that's why next season will be so crucial.

If Gallagher is to impress and earn himself a move to a decent Premier League club, his first port of call will be to establish just what sort of midfielder he wants to be - because right now we're not sure even he knows, never mind prospective buyers.

Conor Gallagher has once again been shipped out on loan by Chelsea
Conor Gallagher has once again been shipped out on loan by Chelsea / Visionhaus/Getty Images

The youngster's first loan move saw him drop into the Championship with Charlton, and his progressive style of play saw him notch an impressive six goals in his first 17 outings for the Addicks - pretty impressive stats given he was a teenager playing in the second tier.

Since then he's mustered just two goals in 63 games, a decent portion of which were played in the Championship with Swansea before you argue his goal threat has been nullified by moving up a level with West Brom.

His spell at The Hawthorns undoubtedly provided more questions than answers regarding his style of play.

The Chelsea loanee's energy and drive was there for all to see during his time at West Brom - with no Baggies player even coming close to his tally of 709 attempts to pressure an opposition player (via FBref) throughout the 2020/21 Premier League season.

However, while applying pressure is all well and good, Gallagher was dribbled past no fewer than 75 times in the league last season, a figure which represents more than double the amount of any of his teammates - applying pressure is all well and good, but at times Gallagher seems to have a tendency to just run around for the sake of it.

The profile of the clubs Chelsea were seemingly looking to lend Gallagher to this summer suggest they fancy him as a bit of a progressive midfielder - with Palace likely to play a more attacking brand of football under Patrick Vieira and Leeds renowned for their attacking endeavour - but there's a concern that he'll be no further forward than he is now come the end of the season.

Gallagher clearly has the ability to get forward and score goals, while he's got the energy to play as a combative midfielder. But he needs to choose a role because right now he seems to be caught in two minds and is kind of just clocking up miles on field.

There's no doubt there's a decent player in there somewhere, even if he's not quite at the level required to make the grade at Chelsea. However, if Gallagher is going to secure a future in the top flight, he's got to leave whomever his manager is in no doubt as to what he's best suited to and what his real identity is.

Advanced playmaker, shuttling midfielder or a deep lying holding midfielder capable of popping it around, it really doesn't matter - but he's got to become a master of one trade rather than a jack of all.