With Chelsea still in the midst of fighting their transfer ban, we’ve been looking at which of last season’s loanees might be ready to step up to the first team in the 2019-20 season.
Some have done better than others, but one of the best performers, Ola Aina, won’t be at Stamford Bridge in a hurry.
Aina agreed to make his loan move to Torino permanent, and the Nigeria international has wasted no time showing the Blues what they’re missing.
The London-born defender managed a few appearances for his hometown club, all of them during Antonio Conte’s first season in charge, but there weren’t any obvious signs he’d be capable of pulling off what he did in the Super Eagles’ Africa Cup of Nations victory over Burundi.
Gernot Rohr’s team found it hard to break down the AFCON first-timers, and it quickly became clear they would need something special to give them an opportunity to open the scoring.
They will have known they had the talent in their squad to provide that moment of quality, but they won’t have expected Aina to be the man to provide it.
There were just 15 minutes left on the clock when Aina decided to take matters into his own hands, and it felt like the action of a man who had seen his team-mates attempt plenty of other lines of attack and decide the normal methods were of no use here.
Some opponents can be broken down methodically, allowing you to break down their resistance to the point that a simple opportunity will eventually present itself. However, Aina correctly identified that this was not what he needed to do here.
For 75 minutes, Burundi had largely seen through the obvious lines of attack, blocking off the direct route to goal and frustrating Nigeria – when Nigeria weren’t frustrating themselves, of course.
The only way around it was to contrive a line of attack that even your own team-mates couldn’t see coming. There’s no way an opponent could read your intentions if your own targets were barely aware of what was going on.
The audacity of that assist from Ola Aina. What the hell?
— Astorre Cerebronè (@Cerebrone) June 22, 2019
The perfect disguise, it turns out, is one where those on your own side have no way of knowing it’s you underneath the mask.
It’s probably too generous to even suggest Odion Ighalo reacts to Aina’s reverse pass. It’s more a case of him reacting to the Burundian defender sliding in helplessly and being suddenly alerted to the fact that there might be a chance here.
The finish – when it arrives – is ruthless, with the former Watford striker giving goalkeeper Jonathan Nahimana absolutely no chance. But the journey to the ball landing at his feet is anything but deliberate. If we’re being generous, we might put it down to him only having come on a couple of minutes earlier, but even so…
It’s as if Ighalo has ripped an original Picasso off the wall of his new home, only to find an equally priceless artwork hidden underneath. Aina sensed his own genius might go unappreciated unless his team-mate was given the feeling that some of the creativity was his own.
Either that or it’s Aina sensing the striker has no plans to make the right runs and instead takes the smacking-him-over-the-head-with-a-frying pan approach to assists. The only difference is he’s had to mould the pan with his own hands, creating it from scratch out of clay, water and dreams.
Iwobi felt the magic from Ola Aina’s heavenly assist that he ran to him to celebrate the goal leaving Ighalo as he breezed to celebrate.
— POOJA… (@PoojaMedia) June 23, 2019
After a questionable few years, Chelsea will hope this season brings more mystique than they’ve been able to enjoy under recent managers.
They may well have the personnel to provide such a thing, whether it’s recent arrival Christian Pulisic or one of the exciting young players ready to assert themselves on the first team.
They’ll have to hope they haven’t made a mistake by letting Ola Aina fall by the wayside, though.
The sight of a footballer doing something that has fans sitting up and asking every single-syllable question they can muster – what? how? why? who? how, for a second time – is something which we can’t write off in a hurry.