When the summer transfer window rolls back around at the end of the season, Chelsea have plenty of big decisions to make, one of which, being the future of Lewis Baker.
The young English midfielder is expected to return to Chelsea after spending two seasons on loan in the Dutch league.
His time at Vitesse may prove to be a monumental advert for keeping the connection running between the two clubs. During a time where the system appears to be going nowhere, Baker flourished over the course of a two-year loan spell, becoming a crucial fixture in their midfield.
Names such as Lucas Piazon, Tomas Kalas, Gaël Kakuta, Ulises Dávila and Josh McEachran spring to mind when you think of those who have gone to the Dutch league and not quite adapted to their football.
At a time where Nathan and Matt Miazga struggle to produce many performances worthy of writing home about, Chelsea must be hoping that Mukhtar Ali can fill the Baker-shaped hole if he does go on to depart at the end of the season.
This season especially, Baker has risen to prominence at the GelreDome, scoring nine goals in the league. He’s also played a key role in Vitesse’s cup run, in which they face AZ Alkmaar in the final on 30 April.
The Eredivisie outfit have never won a major trophy in their history as a football club, and when Baker was speaking to Joe Tweedie on WAGNH about the competition, you got the impression that achieving such a feat would mean a huge amount to Baker, as he explained his desire to ‘finish what he had started in Vitesse’.
Baker would, of course, need time to adjust to life back at Cobham and a pre-season under Conte would give both parties time to see where he is at in terms of his personal development, something that could be affected by this summer’s European U21s championships.
As we’ve seen with Dominic Solanke, the next move post-Vitesse is crucial. Solanke impressed during his brief time in the Eredivisie, but then he failed to either find a suitable loan move or break into the first-team squad and now looks set to leave the club when his contract expires at the end of the season.
Baker will not be short of suitors, that is for sure. Somewhere like Swansea, providing they maintain their Premier League status, could be seen as a viable option, or even the likes of Brighton and Newcastle if the latter goes on to secure promotion.
If the club do decide to move him on for another loan move, regular first-team football has to be a must. Not like the cases of Patrick Bamford, who joined a Burnley side, who have a such a tight-knit group, that any incoming player, let alone someone on-loan from Chelsea, will find it hard to break into.
If it’s not at Chelsea, Baker needs to be playing his football at somewhere that can mirror his time with Vitesse, a midfield that he can dominate and put his own stamp on.
Should the club decide to keep him around the first-team squad, a goalscoring midfielder, who is equally strong with both feet would be a fantastic addition, not mention the fact he would not cost the club a single penny.
The Blues must weigh up what is best for the player, keeping him involved with the first-team squad, learning from the senior players and from Antonio Conte, with less game time, or sending him out on loan to get 30+ Premier League games under his belt.
Conte will need to add depth to his squad with the addition of Champions League football and Baker is the perfect example of a player that can slot into the team through the group stages and cup competitions, giving Chelsea a fighting chance of competing across four fronts next season.
Not to mention the brilliant chant that the Vitesse fans have started for the midfielder that would sound great around Stamford Bridge.
Baker starred at the Toulon Tournament with England, alongside the likes of Nathaniel Chalobah and given the success he has had at Vitesse, you have to look at his fellow countryman as his nearest benchmark.
Conte has not shied away from handing both Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek minutes at Stamford Bridge, albeit minimal.
Neither have pulled up any trees this season, but the Blues suffered an early elimination from the League Cup and with no Champions League football this campaign, next season offers the prospect of a lot more football that can be played.
Whatever does happen to Baker next season, it’s clear to see that Chelsea do have one of the brightest young English footballing talents on their hands.
To say that the club needs to manage him and decide his next move carefully is an understatement. If they play their cards right, they could potentially have a central midfielder that could dominate Stamford Bridge for many years to come.