Antonio Conte: Chelsea youngsters have to earn place in team
Antonio Conte is prepared to give Chelsea's talented academy youngsters an opportunity to shine in the first team, but they must earn their places and repay his faith with performances on the pitch.
Chelsea finished Saturday's 3-0 win over Leicester City at Stamford Bridge with three home-grown youngsters on the pitch as Conte brought Nathaniel Chalobah, Ola Aina and Ruben Loftus-Cheek off the substitutes' bench in the second half.
Chalobah responded by creating Chelsea's third goal for Victor Moses with an audacious flick on his first senior appearance at Stamford Bridge, while Aina performed solidly in the closing minutes on his Premier League debut.
After the match Conte was adamant that age will be no barrier to selection in his Chelsea team, but he expects his youngsters to earn their minutes.
"People who know me will know I don't gift a place to anyone," Conte said. "Only those who deserve to play will play for me. It is important for Chalobah and Aina to understand this.
"When I have called Chalobah he has always answered me in a positive way. If they are ready I will put them in.
"In the future they can play from the start. Age is not important. I made my first appearance in Serie A at only 16."
Saturday's match represented another personal milestone for Chalobah, who is finally making his Chelsea first-team breakthrough this season after six different loan spells since 2012, and the 21-year-old believes his experiences away from Stamford Bridge have made him stronger.
"I've had a lot of loans -- some that were good and some that were bad -- but out of all the loans I've had, I've tried to learn as much as I could from them and I think that's helping me now," Chalobah told Chelsea's official website.
"If you're a youngster at Chelsea you always have to believe you are good enough, however many loans you have, because you never know what might happen. If you work hard, keep believing and at the right time you're in the right place, you get your chance.
"I think the manager is trying to give all the young players and academy graduates an opportunity. At the minute everybody at the club is working together and doing the best we can.
"I hope I get more chances. All I can do is try and do my best in training and see what happens."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.