Stamford Bridge isn't exactly a happy place right now, despite a fourth successive home league win putting Chelsea back in the driving seat to finish third in the Premier League. The Blues are in fact unbeaten at home since early January, winning 6 and drawing 2 of their 8 matches in all competitions since their first leg Capital One Cup defeat to Swansea.
It has been made pretty clear that Rafa Benitez will not be in charge of the club next season, which seems likely to come as a relief to the interim head coach as much as it does to the fans. But while the Spaniard will be on his way out regardless of Chelsea's results between now and the end of the season a few faces should return to the club to lift the gloom in West London.
In England there has been a huge buzz, and rightly so, around the form of teenage striker Romelu Lukaku at West Brom. Former Chelsea defender and Baggies boss Steve Clarke all but conceded that the 19 year old would go back to the Bridge in the summer, and with the faltering form of the likes of Torres and Ba to a lesser extent the supporters' excitement at such a prospect is understandable.
The front man has 13 league goals for the Midlands outfit and has been the subject of rave reviews, but he's not the only player catching the eye elsewhere. 20 year old keeper Thibaut Courtios has made it known that he would like to stay in La Liga with high-flying Atletico Madrid for a third season, with Petr Cech not set to pass his prime for some time.
The Belgian has started all but one of Diego Simeone's side's 28 games this season and played a big part in Atletico boasting the strongest defensive record in Spain (24 conceded). Chelsea may well see the chance for Courtois to gain experience at the very top level in the Champions League as a blessing, but there's little doubt that the youngster seems to see the Vicente Calderon as his true home for now.
Our focus in this piece instead revolves around yet another young Belgian whose future seems a little less clear. Kevin De Bruyne is also profiting from experience in one of Europe's top 5 leagues, and his form should have Chelsea fans chomping at the bit to see him in blue next season.
The 21 year old is currently plying his trade in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen, and a number of clubs are keen to see him stay in Germany beyond this year. Indeed, a look at the player statistics for the Bundesliga suggests that De Bruyne is already extremely capable at the highest level. In terms of WhoScored ratings, only 10 players have exceeded the youngsters' 7.58 in the league this season, and the former Genk playmaker's recent displays have been particularly impressive.
Since the start of February De Bruyne's rating is at an average of 8.22 over 7 appearances - a figure only bettered in Europe's top 5 leagues by Messi, Bale, Lewandowski and Cazorla. The issue for the next Chelsea boss will be how to fit the Belgium international into an already attacking midfield set-up.
He's predominantly played in a central midfield role this season, but needs a wholly defensive anchor man alongside him to do so, with Zltako Junuzovic filling that role at Werder Bremen. If De Bruyne does rejoin with his Chelsea teammates this summer, a partnership with Ramires next season would effectively stunt the Brazilian's attacking drive and in turn perhaps the 25 year old's strongest asset. He could play in the Blues' attacking midfield trio, but like Mata, Oscar and Hazard would see his ideal position in the centre of such a line-up.
The Belgian is a playmaker. He has 8 assists in the league this season, which is a figure only bettered by four Bundesliga players, but both Juan Mata (10) and compatriot Eden Hazard (8) provide similar ammunition at the Bridge. His average of 2.5 key passes per game again ranks among the top 10 in the German league, and while it is again just down on that of Mata (2.7), his figure is some way up on that of Hazard (1.9) and Oscar (1.5).
His passing in general play certainly needs a little work - a 76.4% accuracy is way down on the standards at Chelsea – but De Bruyne has good variation to his play, able to unlock defences with a through ball and pick a raking pass. His delivery from wide areas and over a dead ball will also be an attraction and could see him forced onto either side were he to break in the Chelsea's team next season. The Belgian's 2.2 accurate crosses per game is topped by only three players in the Bundesliga, and his overall accuracy of 31.3% is exceptional, and considerably higher than his Chelsea counterparts.
Elsewhere his baby-faced appearance deceives in that he carries the ball forward with great purpose and tenacity, with an average of 3.2 successful dribbles per game yet again amongst the best in the Bundesliga. His ability to beat a man is perhaps the feature that best separates him from the Blues' current crop, and Mata in particular, who has averaged just 0.5 a match in comparison.
A tally of 6 goals is respectable, but having come from 66 shots (9.1% conversion rate) should perhaps have been improved upon. However, his still finishing stats are still some way in advance of those of Oscar who, despite setting Europe alight with 6 strikes this season, has just 1 league goal from 44 attempts.
It is the Brazilian that De Bruyne would most likely come into direct competition with, without meaning to disregard the presence of Victor Moses, and Oscar has quickly endeared himself to the fans. He offers a little more fight than the Belgian (2.2 to 1.4 tackles per game) and in turn perhaps a little more balance to an adventurous midfield.
It seems that if he is to settle down in West London, a change in formation may be needed, though the current set-up is deemed best-suited for star man Juan Mata, so any prospective manager may be hesitant to change it. De Bruyne was a fantastic capture for Chelsea, but only time will tell if wealth of competition at the club will see their signing go unnoticed for some time yet.