A Chelsea Development Squad team missing six key players beat Manchester United 4-0 at Leigh Sports Village on Friday night to ease their own relegation concerns whilst piling them on their hosts in an emphatic victory.
Juan Castillo, Kylian Hazard, Reece James and Harvey St Clair all scored in a comprehensive success for a depleted squad, and the three points move them up to sixth in the twelve-team league with five games to play.
With Marcin Bułka, Trevoh Chalobah, Ethan Ampadu, Kyle Scott, Dujon Sterling and Callum Hudson-Odoi all involved in Antonio Conte’s first-team squad for the FA Cup tie against Hull City, Joe Edwards’ options were somewhat limited, and the lack of depth was exacerbated by the Under-18 squad preparing for their Premier League Cup Semi Final at Everton on Saturday morning.
It means a travelling squad of just fifteen, with Jamie Cumming in goal behind a back four of James, Josh Grant, Richard Nartey and Castillo. Ruben Sammut and Luke McCormick set up camp in midfield, with St Clair and Hazard out wide, Isaac Christie-Davies as the number ten, and the in-form Daishawn Redan leading the line up front.
United came into the evening bottom of the Premier League 2 table and with the knowledge that a defeat, combined with wins for Tottenham and Manchester City elsewhere, would leave them facing an uphill struggle to avoid relegation this season. They were quick to show their intentions, with Joshua Bohui rather wasteful following good play by Matthew Olosunde, and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson unlucky with a snap-shot pushed over by Cumming.
They would have felt even worse when Castillo gave Chelsea the lead after ten minutes. Breaking away from a United attack, the Dutchman collected possession at his own right-back spot, and was allowed to run relatively unchallenged all the way to the edge of the other penalty area, before producing a shot that was slightly deflected on its way past Kieran O’Hara and into the back of the net.
That provided the Blues with the impetus to go on and cement their position in the contest, but they couldn’t add to their lead. James’ supply line from the right was plentiful as usual, with St Clair and Redan both going close to applying the finishing touches to his deliveries, whilst the powerful right-back also tried his luck himself with a bobbling effort from 25 yards out that O’Hara comfortably dealt with.
Having seen off a strong spell from their visitors, the hosts then enjoyed their best passage of play in the fifteen minutes up until half time. Ethan Hamilton and Tahith Chong each struck clean left-footed efforts that required Cumming’s intervention, whilst Olosunde did similar in coming in from the flank with a right-footed try, but none of them were successful in breaching the Chelsea goal before the break.
United had scored more than once in just one home game this term, and their task became much harder five minutes after the restart when Hazard doubled the lead. St Clair put in the hard yards down the left, crossing initially for Christie-Davies, but a fortunate bounce took the ball into Hazard’s path and the finish was emphatic.
The Reds felt they should have had a penalty when McCormick barged Chong to the ground without getting close to the ball, but referee Glen Hart was having none of it, and McCormick would instead make a more tangible impact at the other end minutes later. Moved into a more advanced role upon the introduction of the fit-again Charlie Colkett, his typically busy and bustling run created space for James on the right, and he stepped inside before curling a lovely finish into the far top corner to make it 3-0 and put his team out of sight.
It could have been more too; McCormick’s shot was parried by O’Hara, allowing substitute Cole Dasilva to have an eventual follow-up attempt that was scuffed wide, and with Chong the sole effective attacker in red, the Chelsea defence had little to do. Their generosity allowed a swift counter-attack led by Chong after some sloppy defending, but even then they stamped out the danger just as quickly, James throwing himself in front of Devonte Redmond’s first-time try.
Their fourth arrived with a little more than ten minutes left on the clock; Grant’s ball in from the left found McCormick, who was unable to corral the ball himself, but St Clair was on the scene to curl into the far corner with a stylish finish that capped a solid individual night’s work on his part. They also saw the clean sheet through, and many of the squad will now prepare for next Wednesday’s clash against Feyenoord at Aldershot’s EBB Stadium as the UEFA Youth League returns.
Manchester United: O’Hara, Riley, Olosunde, Williams, Borthwick-Jackson (Warren 43), Redmond, Chong, Hamilton, Bohui, Gomes (Buffonge 58), Dearnley (Boonen 66)
Subs not Used: Richardson, Whelan
Chelsea: Cumming, James, Grant, Nartey, Castillo (Colley 75), Sammut, K.Hazard (C.Dasilva 62), McCormick, Redan, Christie-Davies (Colkett 58), St Clair
Subs not Used: Tié
Goals: Castillo ’10, K.Hazard ’49, James ’60, St Clair ‘78