Fikayo Tomori believes settling into the Chelsea team in the early weeks of the season was crucial for his confidence, helping prove to himself and others that he belonged at the highest level.
The young defender enjoyed a productive season in the Championship last term, helping Frank Lampard’s Derby County to the play-off final, where they narrowly missed out on promotion to the Premier League, and being named the Rams’ Player of the Year.
However, there were still some eyebrows raised when Lampard confirmed Tomori would not be going back out on loan and would instead be part of the senior setup this season, particularly given the fact that he had only half an hour of top-flight football under his belt prior to the current campaign.
Featuring in six of our opening 10 games in 2019/20 was therefore an important part of adjusting to the new challenge of Premier League football and feeling comfortable among elite peers and competitors.
‘It was just about me feeling like I belonged and that I could play at this level,’ the 22-year-old tells the official Chelsea website. ‘I had spent two-and-a-half years in the Championship and with Derby last season I managed to win Player of the Year and get to Wembley for the play-off final so I knew I’d had a good season.
‘I wanted to challenge myself at the next level, which was the Premier League. I wanted to do it for Chelsea, the club that I’ve been at since I was eight; a club that’s won the Champions League, the Premier League, FA Cups, everything.
'They won the Europa League the previous season so being able to come into that team and show myself, show the manager and the fans and my team-mates, show everyone that I could play at that level, was really important.
‘I managed to do that in those early games and showcase what I could do and I’ve managed to carry that through. Now, it’s just about trying to maintain that level, not drop below it and keep on improving it.’
Tomori’s third start for his boyhood club came in the Champions League against Valencia in September, a disappointing defeat that was soon rectified by victories in Amsterdam against Ajax and in France against Lille, both of which he also played the duration of.
‘Hearing the Champions League music for the first time is something special,’ he admits. ‘I remember when we played away at Ajax, Tammy [Abraham], Mason [Mount] and I were looking at each other like “wow, we’re playing in the Champions League. We’ve just won away in the Champions League!” Those kind of moments are when you realise you’re on the big stage.
‘It is definitely different to playing in the Premier League, especially because abroad in places like Spain and France they have different styles of play and a different tempo. Being able to adjust to that, impose yourself and manage the game is something that you have to learn as well.’
Central defence has been perhaps the most competitive area of the team this season, with Tomori battling with Kurt Zouma, Toni Rudiger and Andreas Christensen for one of usually two places in the starting line-up.
It has meant that all four have been disappointed at one stage or another when not selected but Tomori believes that competition has only helped to drive up standards across the board.
‘Having competition helps the team to improve because everyone wants to play,’ he notes. ‘You know if you want to get in the team then you have to be better than the person who’s got the shirt at that time so you have to take it from them.
‘Individually, it spurs you on but then it also makes the team better because everyone is going to be firing on all cylinders trying to get into the team. When you do get your spot, you have to play well to keep your place so I think the fact that there is that friendly competition means everybody knows you have to be on your game.
‘If you train well, you can get in the team and if you play well then you’ll stay in the team. Having that breeds this friendly, competitive nature and spirit that we have and it can only be a positive thing.’
Read: Tomori explains how he's adapted to top-flight football