Chelsea’s Development Squad campaign came to a disappointing end on Tuesday night as they were resoundingly beaten 5-1 by Liverpool at Anfield.
Two goals apiece from defender George Johnston and forward Yan Dhanda plus a fine individual goal by Bobby Adekanye put Joe Edwards’ side to the sword in a match where their defending was suspect, and finishing not up to standard, with Martell Taylor-Crossdale coming off the bench to grab a second half consolation.
There was something of an ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ feel to proceedings in the final PL2 fixture of the season, particularly after Chelsea’s recent FA Youth Cup and Under-18 League title successes in which a number of players involved here featured, but there was still plenty to play for as Liverpool were looking to finish second, whilst the Blues could have jumped up to 5th and given themselves a really respectable finishing position.
Yet the recent struggles encountered by some of the more senior players in the group – a defeat at home to Tottenham last time out was followed by the UEFA Youth League Final defeat to Barcelona – followed them north to Merseyside, and they were never really in a match controlled by Liverpool from start to finish. They were unable to handle Adam Lewis’ set-piece deliveries as Johnston crashed in a pair of headers and could easily have finished with a hat-trick, and they once again lacked an intensity that has always been present in their better displays.
It was a strong team too; Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James, Charlie Colkett, Juan Castillo, Jacob Maddox and Dujon Sterling all started, as did Charlie Brown for the first time at this level, but they were a goal down early on. Johnston had already given them fair warning before connecting with one of Lewis’ wicked curling dead-ball deliveries, and that was the signal for the start of a frustrating evening overall.
Castillo had looked the most likely to make something happen in response, but Hudson-Odoi is always the player with the talent to unlock any defence, and he should have done better when picked out by Maddox midway through the half. His touch to take down an awkward pass was impressive; the left-footed finish wide of the target was less so.
Castillo and Herbie Kane exchanged shots off-target at either end, and Brown went down under a clumsy tackle by Nathaniel Phillips that had a hint of a penalty about it, but Adekanye struck a second three minutes before half time when he displayed quick feet to sell Josh Grant before rifling a finish high past Marcin Bułka from six yards out. Had Brown taken his one on one chance immediately after, things could have been very different, but it squirmed inches wide of the post rather than inside it.
Edwards had already moved away from his 3-4-3 formation before the second goal, but came out for the second half with a flat back four and a diamond midfield, which would eventually help his team. They were 3-0 down before they really got a chance to show what they had to offer though; a harshly-awarded penalty for handball against James allowed Dhanda to crash an unstoppable spot kick into the top corner.
Taylor-Crossdale was introduced and found the net within five minutes of his arrival; a sublime passage of play, easily Chelsea’s best of the night, eventually saw Brown bear down on goal before unselfishly squaring for his strike partner to convert his sixth Development Squad goal of the season, and his 21st in all competitions. They couldn’t build on that lifeline though, and instead allowed Johnston a completely free header from another Lewis corner, and found themselves 4-1 down.
Two more crosses from Castillo threatened to add some respectability to the scoreline, Grabara having to bravely intercept the first before Phillips almost turned the second into his own goal, but the final word went to the hosts in the third minute of stoppage time. Dhanda, a former winner of Chelsea’s Asian Star initiative, curled a beautiful fifth past Bułka from the edge of the area to round off a miserable night for the visitors, who had not conceded so many goals in one match since 2007.
Their year as a whole has been one of learning and of inconsistency; regularly fielding the youngest team in the league, they won eight and lost nine of their 22 league matches, but reached the Checkatrade Trophy Semi Finals having been unbeaten over 90 minutes against several League One and Two teams. They won eight of ten matches in their best mid-season run between November and February, but will look back on a shaky start and a below-par finish and know they could have done better. Many of the group will move on next season, either on loan or to pastures new, and the latest crop of Youth Cup graduates will pick up where they left off.
Liverpool: Grabara, Whelan, Gallacher (Juanma 87), Phillips, Johnston, Coyle (Whyte 80), Adekanye, Kane, Millar (Gomes 85), Lewis, Dhanda
Subs not Used: George, McAuley
Goals: Johnston ’23, ’63, Adekanye ’42, Dhanda ’51 (pen), ‘90+3
Booked: Whelan, Adekanye
Chelsea: Bułka, Sterling, James, Colley, Grant (Taylor-Crossdale ’54), Sammut ©, Maddox (Gallagher 74), Colkett (McEachran 73), Brown, Hudson-Odoi, Castillo
Subs not Used: Cumming
Goal: Taylor-Crossdale ‘58