Chelsea began the defence of their Under-18 Premier League Cup with a fine 5-1 win against Norwich City at Cobham on Saturday.
The Canaries have struggled this season and were put to the sword by a clinical and efficient Blues side that had itself been subject to plenty of rotation. Thierno Ballo’s first-half hat-trick set them on their way, before Henry Lawrence and Jon Russell added to the tally in the second period. Norwich grabbed a consolation through Isak Thorvaldsson, having earlier seen Jake Askew save Anis Mehmeti’s penalty.
Andy Myers used the break in the league schedule to shuffle his pack a little and give some playing time to players who hadn’t quite seen the pitch that often so far this season. Jordan Aina earned his first start of the campaign, schoolboy Lewis Bate made his full debut at this level, and Lawrence slotted into a three-man midfield alongside him and Russell, leaving Marcel Lewis up front with Ballo.
They needed less than three minutes to get the ball rolling. Norwich were too passive at the back, allowing the hosts time and space in possession, and they were duly punished. Lewis fed Ballo to the left of centre inside the penalty area, and the Austrian forward was able to settle himself before coolly slotting past goalkeeper Joe Rose for the first time on the day.
He didn’t have to wait long for a second either. Chelsea’s quality in tight areas repeatedly saw them unlock the defence and, while Lawrence’s first attempt at finding Ballo was blocked, his second found its target, and the Blues’ number nine did the rest with a powerful first-time finish that ripped into the roof of the net.
To their credit, Norwich refused to let their heads drop, and began to show what they were capable of. They were unfortunate not to reduce the deficit when Thorvaldsson’s shot took a wicked deflection off Jack Wakely and past Askew, but it bounced back off the post and back into the waiting arms of the grateful Chelsea goalkeeper.
He was busy again minutes later when Anis Mehmeti, probably the pick of the Norwich players on the day, unleashed a clean strike from the edge of the area that required a flying save to push it over for a corner. Cursing their luck, they instead found themselves 3-0 behind when Ballo robbed Saul Milovanovic of the ball on the edge of his own area, before gleefully completing his hat-trick ten minutes before half time. He could have had a fourth, too, were it not for the post getting in the way.
Even when they were awarded a penalty for a foul by Wakely on Thorvaldsson, Norwich must’ve known it wasn’t to be their day, for Mehmeti saw Askew guess correctly to keep out his spot kick. A goal before the interval could have given them a glimmer of hope, but instead they went in resigned to the eventual outcome.
They couldn’t muster the same vigour when play resumed and, against Chelsea, that will always see you punished. Lawrence made it 4-0 within five minutes of second half play when he arrived on time to plant Russell’s cutback firmly beyond the reach of Rose at the near post, and had the Blues really found their appetite, they could have run amok.
A careless mistake in communication between Askew and Marcel Lavinier allowed Thorvaldsson to steal in for a consolation, one of his last acts before being forced off through injury, and without him Norwich lacked the presence in attack to try to rescue further respectability on the scoresheet.
Russell scored a deserved fifth to crown a fine individual performance when he collected a poor kick from Rose and returned it with interest, low and hard into the bottom corner, to set the seal on am emphatic 5-1 final score. He should have been given a second assist on top of that, but neither Lavinier nor Pierre Ekwah Elimby could get on the end of a peach of a cross in the closing stages.
Chelsea will face sterner tests in their pursuit of retaining the cup, away to Newcastle in November and then again to Manchester United before Christmas, while their league fixtures return next Saturday on the road at Brighton & Hove Albion.
Chelsea: Askew, Lavinier, Wakely (c), Ekwah Elimby, Aina, Bate, Clark (Maatsen), Russell, Ballo (Broja), Lewis, Lawrence (Nunn)
Subs not Used: Wady, McClelland
Goals: Ballo (3), Lawrence, Russell
Norwich City: Rose, Vaughan, Richardson, Lomas (c), Omobamidele, Dronfield, Olopade, Milovanovic, Thorvaldsson (Giurgi), Mehmeti, Barkarson
Subs not Used: Thompson-Brissett, Ekumah, Keller