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Chelsea could loan youngsters out earlier to boost first-team chances

Chelsea are prepared to loan out youngsters at an earlier age if it gives them a better chance of making the leap from academy football to the first team, head of youth development Neil Bath has said.

Blues teams have won six of the last eight FA Youth Cups and claimed Premier League titles at under-18 and U21 level as well as winning back-to-back UEFA Youth Leagues in 2015 and 2016.

But despite academy graduates Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Ola Aina being given playing time by Antonio Conte last season and Nathaniel Chalobah establishing himself in the first-team squad, Chelsea are no nearer to producing their first regular home-grown starter since John Terry.

Bath said Chelsea needed to expose young prospects to senior football more quickly, even if that meant compromising the academy's trophy chances.

He told the club's official website: "We want to push our young players to experience the senior game at an even earlier age.

"Naturally, that will make winning youth tournaments more difficult -- but we don't see that as being a problem.

"It's a challenge for us to compete and win things with even younger teams while striking the balance of getting the right player on loan at the right club and not undervaluing our programme back at Cobham."

Loftus-Cheek, 21 -- one of the few Chelsea youngsters who has never been out on loan -- has made just 32 senior appearances in his career.

But he is likely to leave on loan this summer, while Chalobah's future is uncertain as he enters the final year of his contract.

Bath said: "Realistically, to break into a first team like ours you need to have played 150 to 200 games at senior level.

"Even someone like Eden Hazard had done that in France before coming to Chelsea, so the reality is our young players will need to experience the same, which is almost three full seasons out on loan.

"If a player goes out at 18 or 19 years old, that means they will be 22 years old before being able to really compete for a regular place in the team and you can see that pathway with the likes of Ryan Bertrand and Nathaniel Chalobah.

"It's why we see the whole academy programme and the loans pathway as very much part of the longer-term development of our players."

There have also been a number of personnel changes in the Chelsea academy ahead of the new season.

Joe Edwards will take charge of the development squad after spending last year as a loan player technical coach and will be assisted by Andy Myers, who has returned from an assistant coaching role at Vitesse Arnhem.

Former Blues players Tore Andre Flo and Jon Harley have also been detailed to work with the U15s and U16s alongside coach James Simmonds.