At any given time, Chelsea have a stunning array of individual talent running through the academy, but the collective is more powerful than any single player can ever be.
We’re just two games into the new season as far as the Development Squad are concerned but, on the evidence to date, we’re looking at a group capable of mixing it with anyone. They might lack for numbers, and they’re going to face sterner tests, but in producing a second win away from home in less than a week – this time a 1-0 victory at Derby County – they showed their credentials for all to see.
Last Tuesday’s 3-2 triumph at Swindon in the EFL Trophy was a great start to life at Under-23 level for new manager Andy Myers, but it came at a cost. George McEachran limped out of the County Ground in the first half and was unavailable for the trip to the Midlands; his place was taken by Marcel Lewis, a 17 year-old making his first start at this level, while three more of the match day sixteen were bidding to make their first appearance of any form. Karlo Ziger came back in place of Jamie Cumming in goal, but the rest of the team picked itself as it will for much of the season, you expect.
Derby left out some of their more promising youngsters with tomorrow’s League Cup trip to Scunthorpe in mind, but were rarely able to worry the young Blues, for whom Charlie Brown at 19 years of age was a veteran. What they thought was a flying start was actually a false one, as Tino Anjorin swept the ball into the back of the net after just six minutes only for the linesman to flag for offside against Brown, who was adjudged to be interfering with goalkeeper Henrich Ravas.
The chance was fashioned by the potent Dutch partnership of Juan Castillo and Ian Maatsen down the left, and it set the tone for the rest of the evening. There were plenty of searching balls over the top and into the channels for the ever-willing Brown to run onto, while the hosts were restricted to a pair of headers midway through the first half that failed to find the target. A tactical tweak by Myers to bring Tariq Uwakwe into central midfield paid immediate dividends in both balance and creativity, providing a left-footed complement to Billy Gilmour and bringing extra creativity by releasing Anjorin into attacking areas with greater frequency.
Castillo, Gilmour, Lewis and Brown all tried and failed to break the deadlock before half time, and the pressure only continued to mount after the restart, as Anjorin forced Ravas into a very good save and Gilmour again pinged one just wide from the edge of the area. At this stage, it was all Derby could do to hang on, but an untimely head injury forced Castillo off and provided an ample break in proceedings for them to catch their collective breaths.
The ensuing reshuffle involved Marcel Lavinier coming on to once again play on the right wing, and substitute Thierno Ballo – another Dev Squad debutant – going to the left just ten minutes after coming on. Trying to go again, they almost fell behind instead, as Derby’s best moment by a long way fell to Connor Dixon. A beautifully-clipped pass by Jahmal Hector-Ingram put the combative midfielder in a goalscoring position just six yards out but, wide of centre, he shanked it awkwardly into the empty stands behind Ziger.
Anjorin should have done better with a fast break of his own in response, but was denied by a last-ditch Callum Minkley tackle, and the longer the game remained scoreless the more it looked like Chelsea would rue their profligacy. Alex Babos exchanged free kicks with Uwakwe without success before they finally made the breakthrough with just five minutes remaining. A short corner found its way to Maatsen, who sent over a cross that practically begged to be headed home. Clinton Mola – imperious throughout – did his best to oblige, but as Ravas saved, Lavinier pounced on the rebound. Far from a regular goalscorer, it was his first since January 2018 when he was on the scoresheet for Jody Morris’ Under-18s against Norwich City, and his celebrations were mirrored by his exuberant team-mates as they thoroughly deserved to take the lead.
Six minutes of stoppage time were found from somewhere, during which Brown’s frustrating night was summed up by a gilt-edged miss after Ballo had played him in with a sumptuous reverse pass, and it was appropriate that the full time whistle came as Mola and captain Marc Guehi snuffed out another unsuccessful Rams foray forward. The Blues might well have impressed going forward, but the platform provided by the two centre-backs – and only one of them is a regular in that position – allowed the rest of the team to go about their business with confidence.
The early signs are very encouraging, and the visit of Liverpool to Stamford Bridge for their first home match of the season next Monday night will offer another chance to impress. Tickets remain on sale, priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Derby County: Ravas, Minkley, J.Brown, Dixon, Wassall, Hunt, Mitchell-Lawson, Cresswell (A.Brown 71), Hector-Ingram, Babos © (Splatt 90+2), Shonibare (Thompson 57)
Subs not Used: Yates, Greco
Booked: Shonibare, A.Brown
Chelsea: Ziger, Lamptey, Guehi ©, Mola, Maatsen, Gilmour, Uwakwe, Anjorin (Wakely 90+5), Brown, Lewis (Ballo 52), Castillo (Lavinier 63)
Subs not Used: Askew, Broja
Goal: Lavinier ‘85