After signing from Monaco last summer for £40 million, French midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko has experienced a turbulent ride in Antonio Conte's Chelsea squad. Starting the season well enough, the 23-year-old nailed down a place in the Blues' 11 alongside N'Golo Kante in a well drilled 3-4-3 formation.
This run continued until Christmas when Chelsea's and Bakayoko's wheels came off in dramatic style.
A lost man
Misplaced passes; poor control off the ball; wayward first touch; speculative shooting - all these undesired attributes began to creep into Bakayoko's game as Chelsea hit the wall in early 2018.
Losses to Arsenal (League Cup), Bournemouth and Watford in the space of a fortnight (not to mention fumbling past Norwich on penalties after 180 minutes of lifeless cup football), meant Chelsea found themselves slipping out of contention for the title as well as their place in the top four.
As for the Bakayoko, a red card after half an hour against Watford was the catalyst for a sustained period of time out of the team. In seven matches stretching from mid-February to April, Bakayoko played just two minutes of first team football, coming on as a late sub against Crystal Palace.
A testing couple of months in West London saw a Bakayoko-less Blues lose crucial fixtures to Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Barcelona; the Frenchman wasn't being regarded as a scape-goat for poor performances anymore, and a return to the first team was just around the corner.
Re-born at Burnley
April 19 saw the return of Bakayoko to Chelsea's starting lineup in a Thursday night fixture away to Burnley. Sean Dyche's side have made a trip to Turf Moor a daunting prospect, even to those sides chasing the top spots in the league.
Sitting alongside Kante and Pedro in a three-man midfield, the Frenchman displayed the maturity and composure that was missing earlier on in the season as Chelsea rallied to an important 2-1 victory.
With an 85% passing accuracy completing 47 passes, he was unphased by the raucous Burnley crowd, proving instrumental in his side clinging onto the three points.
A cameo appearance followed in the FA Cup semifinal against Southampton, with the following trip to Swansea proving the confirmation of Bakayoko's return to form. A 1-0 away win for the Blues saw one of his best performances in a Chelsea shirt, with his match stats backing this up (95% passing accuracy, two tackles).
This past weekend's win against Liverpool has also proved as a feather in 'Timi's' cap, with balls being sprayed out left and right for wingbacks to pounce on, coupled with a relentless energy in the middle of the pitch refusing the likes of Mohamad Salah and Roberto Firmino easy access to midfield service.
What next for Baka?
So, with thoughts turning towards next season, Bakayoko's future in the Chelsea starting 11 looks as unpredictable as ever. Will Conte still be the man in the hot seat? Unlikely.
Whoever takes the reins next season will undoubtedly come with a new philosophy, as well as a new set of transfer targets.
There is no doubt Bakayoko has the talent to progress in a midfield three, and at the tender age of 23, the £40 million man has time to grow into his role at Stamford Bridge.
The fast-paced nature of the Premier League takes time to adjust to, especially in a position as unforgiving as centre midfield, so the critics that are writing off the career of Bakayoko in England are doing so wrongly. After all, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien had poor opening seasons with Chelsea... and what did they go onto to achieve?
With Kante beside him there is plenty of optimism surrounding the potential future of his French counterpart. It's been a season to forget for the Blues (despite next week's FA Cup final), so when any individual performance comes under scrutiny it's important to apply a pinch of salt.
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