For a number of years, there have been more than a few murmurings of discontent with the Premier League’s reserve structure, with the highest profile managers in the country speaking out against it.
After a number of teams withdrew from participation in the league over the last twelve months, the Premier League has acted upon change, with effect from the 2010/11 season.
The previous North/South split, of a simple home and away calendar against anywhere between seven and nine other teams in and around your region is out.
In its place arrives a rather convoluted setup which will provide an initial freshness, but may not solve the problems in the long-term, not least because it continues to fail to address the problem of too few fixtures.
The sixteen remaining Premier Reserve League teams are now split into three regional groups:
Group A: Manchester United, Manchester City, Newcastle United, Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers
Group B: Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Everton, Liverpool, Sunderland
Group C: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, West Bromwich Albion, West Ham United Wolverhampton Wanderers
Each team will face the other teams in their group twice, home and away. They will then face each of the other teams in the league overall either home or away.
For Chelsea, this means 20 fixtures, which is an increase on the 16 of the previous two years, and the projected 14 under the old setup for next season.
The winners of Groups A and B will play off for the right to meet Group C’s victors in the Premier Reserve League Final.
Presumably, this is because Group C has one extra team and therefore will have a slightly longer route to the final, but the number of total fixtures will be even ahead of the Final.
On the face of it, it’s quite an exciting change, but it does only remain a superficial reaction.
Undoubtedly, it will be nice to see Steve Holland’s boys pit their wits against teams from the Northern section for the first time in some years.
In 2008 Chelsea’s second string played a home-and-away friendly series against Manchester United which was engrossing and entertaining.
The prospect of that match this season looms large on the eventual fixture list, as does the clash with Liverpool, and even head-to-heads against the likes of Sunderland and Everton, generally very good at this level.
However, it does little to allay the fears that players between the ages of 18 and early 20s do not have enough regular competitive football and will instead either stagnate or be forced into a loan move at a stage of their development which may not be suitable.
The fixture list has grown by 25%, and perhaps is the only real solution the Premier League could find given the teams who have decided to withdraw and run their own developmental squads.
Logistically, a home and away fixture list against the remaining 15 teams (to create a more acceptable 30 match campaign) would probably not work, with many teams sharing football league stadiums and with fixtures taking place on any given weeknight.
At any rate, it does make the new reserve season a lot more interesting right now, and next on the list is where the games will be played.
Chelsea’s deal with Brentford ended in May, and with dissatisfaction at the Griffin Park playing surface, fixtures had already been moved to Cobham.
The club said they would reveal their new venue when news of the restructure broke. It hasn’t yet, but this news comes from a well connected Manchester United fan and appears to be on the mark.
One option the club has considered was to stage certain matches at Stamford Bridge.
Concerns over the quality of the playing surface for the first team were high on the agenda, but Chelsea officials believe that before Christmas at least, it can hold up to hosting both teams.
Whatever the decision is, you can be sure it will be greeted with anticipation by reserve league followers. You’ll hear about it first on Twitter @chelseayouth, and here on TheChels.net