Chelsea’s Development Squad kicked off the new Premier League 2 season with a goalless draw away to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Friday night.
A marquee match-up between the two best on-pitch academies in the country opened the campaign some three months after they met in a third consecutive FA Youth Cup Final and, despite many of those involved having featured in those showpiece spectacles, there was plenty of off-season rust to shake off as both sides lacked a cutting edge en route to the 0-0 final score.
Chelsea are accustomed to fielding youthful line-ups at this level but, even by their standards, kicking off the new campaign with four 17 year-olds and two 16 year-olds took things into unchartered waters. Jamie Cumming made his debut at this level in goal behind a back three where 18 year-old Joseph Colley was the elder statesman, flanked by Reece James and new signing Ethan Ampadu, who joined the club this summer from Exeter City.
Dujon Sterling and Juan Castillo reprised their wing-back roles after proving so decisive in the Youth Cup Final between the two clubs last season, whilst Isaac Christie-Davies and captain Ruben Sammut – both 19 – provided the experience in the middle of the team. Jacob Maddox and Callum Hudson-Odoi joined makeshift centre-forward Harvey St Clair in a mobile front three.
The Blues included six who came out on top against City in that Youth Cup Final back in April, with the hosts starting five themselves. There was, however, no room for Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz, who remain with the first-team squad after impressive pre-seasons, nor was Jadon Sancho involved as uncertainty over his future continues.
Like Chelsea, they handed a first start at this level to a 16 year-old number ten in the shape of former Fulham schoolboy Taylor Richards, and it was he who had the first chance inside three minutes. Matt Smith found space out on the right to pick out a teasing cross, where Richards was only denied by a brave block by Colley, with Benjamin Garré steering his follow-up effort well off target.
Having then been booked for a late tackle on Hudson-Odoi, Richards found himself in goalmouth action again, failing to hook Javairo Dilrosun’s cross back towards the target, but despite the generally positive start, City were unable to grasp a firm hold over proceedings. Instead, Chelsea grew into the contest and began to threaten as Hudson-Odoi, Christie-Davies and Maddox all fired wide in quick succession.
Their finest moment came from a corner ten minutes before half time; Daniel Grimshaw flapped at the ball and saw it take an unlucky bounce back towards his own goal, but Jacob Davenport intervened just before it crossed the line, and Sterling was penalised in his efforts to poke it home. That let-off sparked Simon Davies’ boys into life again though, and it took a good stop from Cumming to stop Nmecha from turning Demeaco Duhaney’s cross into the opening goal.
The home team were late in returning to the field for the start of the second half and their focus was clearly still elsewhere as they allowed Hudson-Odoi to release Maddox clear on goal within thirty seconds of the restart. They were therefore thankful that Grimshaw was up for the challenge as the young stopper sprinted out and smothered the ball whilst Maddox hesitated with the moment upon him.
It was a similar story fifteen minutes later, when St Clair worked a yard of space from which to find Sterling, who muscled Tyreke Wilson off the ball only to find Grimshaw in good form once again. With the pressure increasing steadily, the same duo were again involved as the Chelsea full-back cut inside from the left before shooting straight at the City number one.
Garré reminded those in attendance on a rainy Friday night at Eastlands that City too still carried a threat, smartly skipping away from James before Colley once again firmly and emphatically closed the door, but it was merely brief respite from a Chelsea onslaught. St Clair found Grimshaw equally as unbeatable as the rest of his colleagues, whilst Christie-Davies should have done better with a fine opening thirteen minutes from time.
City sub Rabbi Matondo caused plenty of havoc with his blistering pace and direct running in the closing stages, but by then both sides had retreated into their own territories to preserve a clean sheet and take a point away from the contest. The Blues now head to Plymouth on Tuesday evening for their first Checkatrade Trophy fixture of the season before hosting Derby County at Stamford Bridge next Friday. Tickets are on sale now priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Manchester City: Grimshaw, Duhaney, Oliver, Francis, Wilson, Davenport, Dilrosun, Smith, Nmecha ©, Richards (Dele-Bashiru 61), Garré (Matondo 71)
Subs not Used: Latibeaudiere, Haug, Gonzalez
Booked: Richards, Smith
Chelsea: Cumming, Sterling, James, Colley, Ampadu, Sammut ©, Maddox (McCormick 57), Christie-Davies, St Clair (Taylor-Crossdale 89), Hudson-Odoi, Castillo (C.Dasilva 64)
Subs not Used: Bulka, Muheim