The last few games of the season tends to offer time for reflection on the campaign, particularly at youth level, and so as Chelsea’s Development Squad beat Sunderland 3-0 at Stamford Bridge on Friday evening, the hard work of the previous eight months started to come to mind.
The Blues don’t finish their schedule for another fortnight yet, but as 16 and 17 year-old prospects dominated from start to finish against a more experienced side – one with a strong record at Premier League 2 level and that was unbeaten in nearly three years against the Blues – there was plenty of reason for optimism.
Mason Mount, fresh from penning a new four-year contract in the week, stole the show, buzzing about the lush green turf gracefully and purposefully, in perpetual motion so that Sunderland were simply unable to keep him under control. It was from his early free kick that Richard Nartey scored a maiden Under-23 squad goal to open the scoring, and it was his deft flick to Isaac Christie-Davies in the second half that opened the door for Iké Ugbo to add the final goal of the evening, reaching the milestone of a 20-goal term in doing so.
His first had arrived just before half time and was laid on a plate by an inch-perfect cross from the left foot of Jonathan Panzo. The youngest player on the pitch, still a schoolboy who doesn’t officially become a scholar until July, played like a veteran closer to 26 than 16, and looked perfectly at home in just his second start at this level (one more than he has for Jody Morris’ Under-18s, in fact).
In a back four also featuring Nartey and two stunningly-gifted 17 year-olds in Dujon Sterling and Trevoh Chalobah, a glimpse of the future was unfolding in front of the few hundred fans who chose to bask in the spring warmth of SW6 ahead of the weekend, yet that particular duo could easily be onto bigger and better things in 2017-18, such is the comfort they’ve found at this level now. Sunderland were unable to test the returning Mitchell Beeney in the Chelsea goal all night, instead finding their few sights of goal quickly shut down by the commanding younger Chalobah.
Ruben Sammut and Kyle Scott ensured things were kept ticking over in midfield whilst Isaac Christie-Davies linked superbly with Mount during some scintillating first-half passages of play, and Harvey St Clair turned in a hard-working hour as he begins to find his own footing in making the transition from Morris’ group up to Adi Viveash’s charges. In fact, the only disappointment on the night came when Charlie Wakefield, on for St Clair for barely five minutes, was forced back down the tunnel with what will surely have been a recurrence of a recent hamstring problem.
On the day the FA Youth Cup Final dates were confirmed though (April 18th in Manchester, April 26th in London), it was the skipper of that team who deserves the last word. Mount, who began the season away to Sunderland with just a single Development Squad appearance to his name, tormented the Black Cats and will work towards the summer knowing his next move will surely be into the professional game and the Loan Army world. Before then, however, there are league fixtures away to Derby and at home to Everton to fulfil, along with the small matter of the Youth Cup Final.
Chalobah, Sterling and Ugbo will join him on the big stage, but their rest of their team-mates will take part in a dress rehearsal of sorts on Saturday morning as Manchester City and Chelsea meet in league action, with the Under-18 Premier League title still very much up for grabs. You can watch that live on Chelsea TV from 11am, with updates throughout on Twitter @chelseayouth and a full report online here afterwards.
Chelsea: Beeney, Sterling, Nartey, T.Chalobah, Panzo, Sammut (c), St Clair (Wakefield 64, Quintero 71), Scott (Gallagher 86), Ugbo, Christie-Davies, Mount
Subs not Used: Baxter, Suljic
Goals: Nartey ‘4, Ugbo ’38, ‘50
Sunderland: Stryjek, J.Robson (Casey 71), Hume, Embleton (Wright 83), Brady, Beadling, Molyneux, E.Robson (c), Asoro (Maja 45), Honeyman, Greenwood
Subs not Used: Brotherton, Talbot