London (AFP) – Billy Gilmour has set his sights on becoming a mainstay of the Chelsea midfield after the diminutive teenager proved he can stand up to the Premier League’s bully boys.
Gilmour delivered a coming-of-age performance as his smooth passing and tenacious tackling inspired Chelsea’s FA Cup fifth-round win over Liverpool on Tuesday.
The 18-year-old was making only his third start for Chelsea, but he showed no signs of stage-fright against the runaway Premier League leaders.
Gilmour crunched into a tackle on Curtis Jones and cheekily nutmegged Fabinho to the delight of the Stamford Bridge crowd, who should see the youngster again when Everton visit west London on Sunday.
Mateo Kovacic is sidelined with an Achilles injury, while N’Golo Kante is still out with adductor trouble and Jorginho misses the match through suspension.
Those midfield issues for Blues boss Frank Lampard are likely to pave the way for Gilmour’s full Premier League debut.
Even if all three were available, Lampard might well have stuck with Gilmour after his virtuoso effort against Liverpool.
Gilmour, who stands just 5 feet 6 inches (168 cm) tall, had no doubts about his ability to mix it with the Premier League’s best after surviving a bruising encounter with Manchester United defender Harry Maguire.
Recalling how the burly Maguire tried to intimidate him during a League Cup tie earlier this season, Gilmour said: “Basically he was saying I’m a wee guy. He was pushing me off, gripping me by the throat, and that’s something I have to deal with.
“I won’t let that happen again, that’s for sure. That was a lesson.
“He is going to try and bully young ones and that’s where I need to learn in the game — how to be stronger.
“I’ve been working on that. That was a learning curve, when he gripped me up in the box. I remember that really well.”
– ‘Huge talent’ –
The sight of Gilmour holding his own was no surprise to Lampard, who has been aware of the fresh-faced Scot since he swapped Glasgow Rangers for the Chelsea youth academy in 2017.
“I’ve got absolute trust in Billy. I remember when he first came in against Sheffield United, we drew the game and people questioned this kid who looks like a 15-year-old. I remember someone individually saying that to me,” said Lampard.
“But I’ve no problem with him because if he’s small in stature he’s huge in personality, and also huge in talent.
“The reason he moved from the academy to the first team building recently, to train with us all the time, is because of the quality of player he is.”
And former England midfielder Lampard recognises the potential in the down-to-earth Scotland Under-21 international, who modelled his game on Cesc Fabregas after watching footage of the Spanish playmaker at Chelsea.
“For a midfield player I have lots of questions. Do you want to receive the ball in all positions, in all moments? Yes, he does,” Lampard said.
“Do you want to make angles, can you pick the right pass? Yes, he generally does. Will you put your foot in? Yes, he does.
“He does all the right things, and he’s humble. He performed like a top-class player going up against top-class players.”
Ross Barkley, who shone alongside Gilmour against Liverpool, knows the perils of being a teen star after bursting onto the scene with Everton before struggling for much of his time at Chelsea.
Asked if Gilmour can maintain his rapid rise, Barkley said: “It is about being ready in training, putting the extra yards in and being ready for your chance.
“Billy was ready for his chance against Liverpool and he took it.”
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