It’s extremely rare for Chelsea’s Under-18s to have nothing to play for at this time of year but, without a league title or an FA Youth Cup at stake for the first time in five years, they travelled to Norwich for Saturday’s league fixture with an unfamiliar feel about proceedings.
The done thing in this situation is to begin taking a longer look at those players who are likely to feature on a more regular basis next season, and so Jamal Musiala and Xavier Simons were handed their first appearances of the season, while fellow schoolboy Dion Rankine got a first start.
Myles Peart-Harris and Valentino Livramento joined them later and there was a debut for Under-15 Sam Iling, but despite the fresh injection of youth, the Blues were held to a 0-0 draw, leaving them without a win or a goal in three consecutive matches for the first time since 2004.
And, in truth, it was that sort of game. Norwich have improved in recent weeks, beating Aston Villa 5-0 in their performance of the season, but have toiled at the wrong end of the table for long stretches. They too had three Under-16s involved from the start and the entire affair had a decidedly ‘end of term’ feel to it.
There were positives in the form of a very assured ninety minutes from Thierno Ballo, who donned the captain’s armband for the first time while also dropping into a midfield role, and many of the newcomers from James Simmonds’ talented next generation showed they have something to offer at this level.
First-year scholar James Clark came closer than anyone to finding the breakthrough when his header came back off the crossbar just before half time, while Armando Broja – who had earlier seen a goal ruled out for offside – was guilty of the most egregious miss late in the day when he shot straight at goalkeeper Daniel Barden after shaking off the attentions of defender Andrew Omobamidele.
In between, Andy Myers’ boys did at least look the more likely to make something happen, but all too often lacked decisiveness in the final third. Peart-Harris in particular added an urgency to proceedings when he came on, firing over from the edge of the box while linking the midfield and attack in a more efficient fashion, but it spoke volumes that Barden’s late denial of Broja was the only real save he had to make all day.
Norwich threatened late on, with the lively Tony Springett involved in much of their best play, but they will have gone home much the happier with the result. Chelsea, on the other hand, will seek improvements ahead of hosting West Ham at Cobham next weekend.
Norwich City: Barden, Vaughan, Barkarson, Omobamidele, Dronfield (c), Khumbeni, Springett, Olopade, Lambert (Omotoye 78), Dickson-Peters, Mehmeti (Martin 59)
Subs not Used: Berkeley, Rose, Ahmadi
Chelsea: Tié, Clark, Simeu, Ekwah Elimby, Aina (Iling 74), Simons, Rankine (Livramento 54), Ballo (c), Broja, Musiala (Peart-Harris 59), Nunn
Sub not Used: Chibueze