Promising Lewis Baker provides interesting dilemma for Chelsea

Last week, Chelsea youngster Lewis Baker must have been pinching himself. No sooner had he joined up with Gareth Southgate's England under-21 squad for the first time than he was asked to join in training with the senior squad.

Roy Hodgson's men were short in numbers due to a few players sitting out training, and he requested that Baker join captain Wayne Rooney, clubmate Gary Cahill and the rest of the top brass for a session working at St George's Park. Of course, Hodgson's temporary needs hardly indicate an imminent call-up to play a key role in England's Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, but this momentary elevation will have been a big moment for the 19-year-old and speaks volumes about his potential.

Along with defender Andreas Christensen, Baker is one of the youth products that have been promoted to Chelsea's first-team squad for this campaign. He enjoyed a hugely successful period in the younger age groups, during which he won the FA Youth Cup, was named as player of the tournament in the 2012-13 NextGen Series and was the driving force behind last season's Barclays U21 Premier League-winning campaign.

An undeniably talented individual with the class to prosper, it seems undeniable that Baker will make the grade. Whether that will be at Chelsea is another matter.

The player has recently expressed his delight in training with the superstars at Cobham and has rightly said that by working alongside the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic he is learning from the best and receiving an enviable education. But that comment illustrates the problem, namely the calibre of player that he will need to oust to get into the first XI.

Before the campaign, Jose Mourinho said he will have failed if Baker -- together with fellow youngsters Dom Solanke and Izzy Brown -- have not made a senior international cap within a few years. That is a serious statement and one that highlights his belief in these players. It does, however, make a rod for his own back as Mourinho will now have to find a way to give them valuable first-team experience, starting with Baker.

But in a season in which winning silverware is not being seen as a desire but a necessity, when will the manager be able to pick his young star? When the stakes are so high, where is the benefit to Mourinho sticking all his eggs in an untested basket if there are more experienced and dependable options to call upon?

It is not an enviable task, and there is always the escape route of blooding youngsters in the domestic cup competitions. Curiously, though, Chelsea have already played one match in the Capital One Cup in which Baker was named in the matchday squad but did not even make it off the bench. That tie against Bolton was won 2-1. Perhaps the narrow margin on the scoreboard -- if not the match itself as the Blues thoroughly dominated proceedings -- dictated that know-how was of more value than exuberance.

But is that not the type of environment in which young players should be tested? Of course, Chelsea are compelled to try to win every trophy on offer, though equally they each have their place in the pecking order. The Capital One Cup is fourth on the list of priorities, and while it would have been disappointing to exit at home to a lower-division side, it would hardly have ignited a mutiny among the club's supporters. Surely, given the occasion, it was worth throwing Baker into the thick of the action to test his mettle.

Even if Baker had featured and shone under the lights of Stamford Bridge, however, it would still be only a partial insight into his true capabilities and provide only a small step in his development. Performing in the early rounds of a cup against meek opponents is one thing, but it is no preparation for the intensity of the Premier League or the diversity of the Champions League. Those are the stages upon which Baker is aiming to play and flourish, so it makes sense for him to have the chance to showcase his talents there.

With that in mind, we return to Mourinho's quandary of how much his duty to the development of young players can impinge on the imperative of winning football games.

Unless Baker makes such a seismic impact that he commands an extended run in the team, it would make sense for the manager to cherry-pick matches in advance in which to deploy his young charge while allowing for a change in circumstances in the interim. For instance, the forthcoming doubleheader against Maribor in the Champions League might present an opportunity to give Baker his first taste of European action. Both Josh McEachran and Gael Kakuta were teenagers when they featured in the group stages of the competition under Carlo Ancelotti and did not look out of place even if their careers have not kicked on as hoped.

It is impossible to see Baker taking the field on Chelsea's imminent trips to Anfield and Old Trafford, though perhaps a substitute appearance in home matches against QPR or West Bromwich Albion in the next month could be factored into the equation. If things work out extremely well and the Blues extend their lead at the top of the Premier League and place themselves out of touching distance of the chasing pack, then that would also provide an opportunity to give more substantial game time to the younger members of the squad.

Scorelines, injuries and the quest for points will ultimately govern any decisions regarding team selection, something that Mourinho is handsomely rewarded for taking. Although it would be entirely understandable if he chose to play it safe and stick with the tried and trusted every week, it would also be real shame. As with Solanke, Brown, Jeremie Boga and the rest, Baker has genuine talent but needs the chance to prove it.