Amid Chelsea’s record transfer spending this summer, the arrival of midfielder Cesare Casadei from Inter Milan has been somewhat overlooked.
Normally, the fact that Chelsea initially spent €15m (£13.1m; $15m) on a 19-year-old with the potential for another €5m in add-ons would have generated plenty more fanfare as well as scrutiny.
But when the club commit more than £250m to new talent and sack Champions League-winning head coach Thomas Tuchel just seven games into the campaign, you can see why the teenager isn’t isn’t exactly in the spotlight right now. This actually turns out to be a good thing.
Chelsea considered loaning him out when they bought the midfielder to give him immediate first-team experience – the closest to a senior game at Inter was an unused substitute at Sassuolo in February. But the club decided against it because they felt the best thing was for him to have the chance to settle down at Chelsea, feel what the place is and be a part of things.
The academy also felt it was important that he gets the chance to learn English which will obviously be crucial if he is to become a potential first-team player. He has a basic understanding of the language but now takes three lessons a week to become more fluent.
It was not an opportunistic purchase. He had been scouted and had been on academy headmaster Neil Bath’s radar for some time. The fact that he scored an impressive 24 goals and created seven assists in two seasons for Inter Milan Under-19s naturally caught the club’s attention, especially as 17 of those strikes came in 2021-22 to help the Serie A club win the Under-19 Championship. . He also starred for Italy as they reached the last four at the European Under-19 Championships this summer, a tournament England would go on to win with Chelsea youngsters Harvey Vale and Carney Chukwuemeka, who joins Aston Villa in a deal worth up to £. 20million after the tournament, in the side.
You might suspect that his arrival for such a large sum might arouse suspicion, jealousy and angst among some of his new teammates. Still, it didn’t take a lot of practice for everyone to be convinced of its quality. It is understood that it was quickly accepted by all.
To say he didn’t enjoy the best of starts is a bit of an understatement, suffering the ignominy of being sent off for a pair of yellow cards on his debut in a 1-0 loss at Sutton United in the EFL trophy. But he showed great strength of character to bounce back three days later when he scored in his Premier League 2 opener to help secure a 2-0 win at Everton.
Saturday, Athleticism took the opportunity to see it in the flesh for the first time and see if the hype is warranted. While the senior side were involved in a behind-closed-doors friendly at Brighton, a game staged due to the postponement of the Premier League game with Liverpool, Casadei was the most expensive player on the pitch as the Under-21s of Chelsea faced an unbeaten Crystal Palace under -21s in front of just over 600 people at Selhurst Park.
It was a real test at this level. Crystal Palace are a great team with physical and fast runners. Whenever a Chelsea player lingered on the ball for too long, his opponents pressed him in a flash.
At first, the game seemed a bit too fast for the youngster. Playing alongside Lewis Hall in front of the four defenders in a 4-2-3-1 formation, he gave the ball away a few times too easily. On one occasion it almost cost a goal when Malcolm Ebiowei cut inside and shot just over the bar.
In an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, he was asked about who compared him to Serbian midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, as well as how he studied Inter duo Marcelo Brozovic and Nicolo Barela. He replied: “I like him (Milinkovic-Savic) a lot for the characteristics he has and for his way of playing, he is a player who inspires me. But to get to these levels, you need a lot. work.
“At Inter, I obviously look at the midfielders, especially Brozovic and Barella: they are two great champions. What would I steal from them? Barella’s intensity and Brozovic’s composure with the ball.
Initially, it was difficult to marry these ambitious comments with the overwhelmed player in the first minutes. But the further the first half went on, the more he started to dictate the game and play the part.
It has helped Chelsea to have exciting winger Omari Hutchinson, whom they signed from Arsenal Academy, as an outlet on the right wing. In truth, he stole the show, scoring every half and hitting a superb free-kick from 25 yards into the post.
But good players always seem to be able to find that extra bit of time and space to express themselves. Two sublime cross passes from Casadei to Dylan Williams and Dion Rankine provoked ‘oohs’ of admiration from Crystal Palace supporters.
He didn’t cause much of a goal threat in the first half, which was surprising considering he’s a box-to-box midfielder. A member of the Chelsea camp was keen to point out to Athleticism at the interval that it was unusual for him. It looked like he was taking turns with Hall to join the attack or fall back for cover.
Maybe a few words were uttered by coach Mark Robinson at the break because Casadei was more present in attack in the second half. Hutchinson’s second goal came because of the Italian. At 6-foot-1, Casadei has already built a reputation for being good in the air. You could see him as he rose majestically to direct Derrick Abu’s cross towards the goal. It took a terrific save from keeper Owen Goodman to deny it, but the ball went straight to Hutchinson to find the net on the rebound.
He was rewarded, but luckily after another run in the box when Hall’s shot hit him and deflected into the corner to give Robinson’s side what looked like a comfortable 3-1 lead. You could say he made his own luck by stepping into a dangerous position in the first place.
Encouragingly, he has returned to nullify Crystal Palace’s counter-attacks on more than one occasion, through right and wrong means, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Chelsea managed to concede two goals in the final 10 minutes to come away with only a 3-3 draw. The visitors’ assured passing game disappeared and Casadei was one of those missing as Crystal Palace pushed forward to exert greater pressure. This was when Chelsea needed their insurance in possession. Still, you couldn’t hear him claiming the ball from others around him, taking the lead. Maybe that will come when he feels more comfortable in English.
Still, there were far more positives than negatives and two goals in three appearances is a good comeback. Chelsea will assess things again in January to see if a loan would suit him better, but there was enough evidence during his display at Crystal Palace to explain why the club bought him in the first place. Whether it will end up proving value for money remains to be seen.