Our young midfielder talks tactical adaptations in midfield, working hard to come back from injury and making a mark in the FA Cup ahead of our third round tie against Morecambe...
Six months on from a season-ending knee injury, Billy Gilmour is back and looking to establish himself once again as a starter under Frank Lampard.
The midfielder featured in four of our six matches following the post-lockdown football restart in the summer, with his starring performances against Liverpool and Everton before the mid-season pause evidently not forgotten by his manager as he started against Leicester City and Crystal Palace.
However, it was at Selhurst Park that he damaged the meniscus in his knee, which required surgery, and the road to recovery has been challenging for a young player experiencing his first serious injury in football at the same time as a global pandemic and living on his own for the first time.
‘It was difficult,’ Gilmour admits in an exclusive interview ahead of our FA Cup tie against Morecambe this afternoon. ‘After having the operation, I just missed football so much and wanted to get back as quickly as possible. I’d never had that time away from it before and especially during lockdown, I couldn’t really do anything.
‘I had just moved into my own place and you want to do stuff around the house but you can’t when you’ve only got one leg and you’re hopping around on crutches. It was the worst feeling ever but the physios really helped me a lot to get my leg and knee stronger. I still need to keep on top of the exercises to make sure the knee stays mobile and strong but it’s completely fine now.’
The teenager was eased back into action at the start of this season, getting minutes with the development squad before making his return as a late substitute in our impressive Champions League victory in Seville.
His first start came the following week against Krasnodar and Chelsea supporters were reminded of his prodigious talent as Gilmour ran the show in a box-to-box midfield role. It was a more advanced position than he has usually been deployed in by Lampard, requiring a slightly different set of attributes, though the Scotland Under-21 international felt more than comfortable.
‘When you’re playing deeper, you’re more likely to go and receive the ball from the defenders, dictate play, create opportunities and also protect the defence,’ he explains. ‘It’s similar in the number eight position but you’re doing it in a more attacking sense where you need to make the box and make more forward runs.
‘I don’t really have a preference. I enjoy playing both positions. I’ll happily do whatever I’m asked to do because I know that I’ve done both in my career so far.’
It was in the FA Cup last term that Gilmour really made his mark, coming off the bench in the fourth round at Hull City before excelling with a controlling midfield display against Liverpool that earned him the man of the match accolades at full-time.
Pundits and punters alike praised the dynamic young Scot in the aftermath of that game and he admits it was an individual performance that stirred his own self-belief of being able to compete with the very best.
‘I loved the game,’ he says. ‘It really gave my confidence to go and push for more minutes and more experience with the first team. Everything just went right for me - I was getting on the ball, playing well and we beat a top team with top players. I’m a big believer that if you train well, you’ll always get your opportunity and then you have to take it.’
Morecambe’s visit to the Bridge is our first FA Cup action at home since that early March midweek, just days before the UK lockdown came into force and changed the outlook of 2020 completely. Yet a new year brings new hope and a new start in the famous old competition. For Gilmour, there is anticipation and awareness of the side currently sat seventh in England’s fourth tier.
‘It will still be a difficult game,’ emphasises our number 23. ‘They’ll be coming to try and sit in, make it tough for us and they’re going to work hard so we need to be on top of our game.
‘Hopefully when we get the chances to score, we’ll be clinical in front of goal. It has been difficult lately, we’ve not been performing the way we should be but we’ve been working hard. All the boys and all the staff are together, we’re training well and we all know what we need to do.’
Lampard has suggested that Gilmour and some of his fellow Academy graduates could be in line to feature against the Shrimps, with a number of possible debutants having been involved regularly in training in recent days.
For most of them, experience against senior opposition has been limited to the occasional runout in the EFL Trophy, in which Chelsea Under-21s are involved. Yet Gilmour does not believe his own jump straight from the Academy into the first team squad, bypassing the loan experience that many players benefit from, has been anything but smooth and, so far, successful.
‘I’ve enjoyed my own pathway,’ he adds. ‘Of course, I need to get more first team experience but I’m still young, I’m still learning and there’s plenty of time for that.
‘I just work hard every day in training and try to take my opportunities. I love being around the boys, I love training with team and I love working with the gaffer so hopefully that just continues.’
Likewise, Chelsea fans have loved watching him burst onto the scene in royal blue and will no doubt be eager to see him back in action again this afternoon.