Academy Season Preview: Part Two – Other Opponents

In Part Two of our Season Preview, we take a look at the other ten teams Chelsea will face in 2010/11, five home and five away, to complete their 28-game schedule.

Aston Villa
Last Season: 3rd in Group B
Last Meeting: 2-1 (2009-10 Youth Cup)
Last season’s beaten FA Youth Cup finalists will return with eyes on going one step further in pursuit of silverware. The club continues to impress not only at youth team level, but also in the way their players progress through the ranks, with many either impressing in brief outings for the first team or on loan last season, like Barry Bannan, who won promotion with Blackpool. If they found room to release Kofi Poyser, who scored at the Bridge in April, they’re working with a high-quality talent pool.

Key Man: Derrick Williams – the centre-back looked the part in both legs against Chelsea, despite an injury inflicted by Marko Mitrovic, and is highly rated by those at Villa Park. The Irishman will be hoping to be a part of another impressive defensive unit, which may lose international star goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist to the reserve team setup.

Birmingham City
Last Season: 5th in Group B
Last Meeting: 2-0 (2009-10)

Birmingham’s academy isn’t one which often lends itself to attention, but theirs is a youth setup which has done alright for itself since reforming a decade ago. In recent years a focus on ensuring Premier League survival has often meant a bloated first-team squad which overflowed into the reserve team, leaving scant opportunity for younger talent to impress, but the likes of Jake Jervis and Jordon Mutch did well on loan last season and provided evidence that the club are developing capable talent under Terry Westley.

Key Man: Jack Butland – the England Under-17 goalkeeper may well see more academy duty than expected with Ben Foster, Maik Taylor and Colin Doyle ahead of him at the club, but with goalkeepers on a longer development plan than outfielders it’s not going to be a problem. He displays strong fundamentals but needs improvement all round, and can become a more complete stopper with another impressive season.

Bristol City
Last Season: 8th in Group B
Last Meeting: 1-0 (2009-10)

There is no other club in England with a connection to Chelsea’s academy even approaching that of Bristol City’s. Former Blues defender David Lee is a key man at the club, and over the last few seasons half a dozen rejected scholars have made their way down the M4 to sign with the Robins, whilst Aldi Haxhia spent time on loan there the season before last – the same season former Blue Nathan Livings scored twice in a 4-1 victory.

Key Man: Joe Bryon – after impressing as a schoolboy last season, the attack-minded player will be one of the most exciting players in a red shirt as a first-year scholar, and possesses the ability to score goals from long range.

Cardiff City
Last Season: 7th in Group B
Last Meeting: 3-2 (2009-10)

Cardiff may not perform exceptionally well in academy football but the quality of player they’re able to produce is remarkably high. Aaron Ramsey and Joe Ledley are the marquee names of more recent times, whilst the next generation is led by Aaron Wildig, Adam Matthews and Darcy Blake. Their aim, naturally, is to follow the likes of James Collins, Robert Earnshaw and Chris Gunter all the way through to national team level, and they’re a capable outfit well led by Neal Ardley.

Key Man: Nathaniel Jarvis – a stocky, powerful forward who scored against Chelsea last season, he captained the side as a first-year and will be one of the players Ardley will look towards for experience and development as he enters his second year, a year in which he could sign professional terms.

Coventry City
Last Season: 9th in Group B
Last Meeting: 1-2 (2009-10)

Despite a lowly finish in the league last year, Coventry showed in beating Chelsea that theirs is a competent unit, and one which towards the end of 2009/10 had provided Jordan Clarke, Jermaine Grandison, and Callum Wilson into the first team ranks. They found room to release Robert Ogleby after a good season last year, so are presumably setting their standards high in pursuit of success.

Key Man: Josh Ruffles – the lightning fast forward can play wide or central and, since pace is especially devastating in academy football, will be a threat to each and every opponent he faces, as Arsenal found out in April last season.

Manchester United
Last Season: Semi Finalists
Last Meeting: 3-2 (2008-09 Youth Cup)

One of the strongest academies around returns to the Chelsea fixture list after a long absence and it promises to be a thoroughly intriguing matchup. United’s academy has produced more players currently plying their trade in the English top flight than anyone else and there’s plenty of promise amongst their current crop. The new first-year intake isn’t as strong as last summer’s but that’s also the case at Chelsea, and the majority of their team have international youth representation.

Key Man: Will Keane – with Paul Pogba out injured for a lengthy period of time, Keane will need to step up as he did last season. He possesses something of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in his game, and is an expert finisher as well as being versatile enough to play effectively in a wide role too.

Milton Keynes Dons
Last Season: 10th in Group B
Last Meeting: 4-0 (2008-09)

Whether they’re active in the progression of players into their senior ranks or not (and there’s healthy evidence in favour of the argument), it’s hard to deny MK’s struggles in academy football. They’ve won just five matches in their last two full seasons combined (56 matches) and the last time they visited Chelsea at the end of the 2008/09 season, they looked well below the standard of other teams. They lost 10-0 at Aston Villa last season in a match where they suffered an early red card, but there’s always the potential to improve, and they’ll certainly be working hard towards achieving that goal.

Key Man: Igor Coronado – a technically adept midfielder, the Dons will look towards him to create the sort of openings needed to start picking up points.

Sheffield Wednesday
Last Season: 10th in Group D
Last Meeting: 1-0 (2006-07)

The Owls return to Chelsea’s fixture list for the first time in four years but with just three wins and the third poorest academy league record last season, things have looked better for them. With the club’s finances being a rather terrible state of affairs in recent years, over a third of their current squad is made up of club-produced players, which is perhaps reflected in their on-field struggles, but they were a bit better in 08/09 and should hope to return to at least that form, in doubling their win tally.

Key Man: Will Kendall – a quick striker with an eye for goal, he can cause problems for defenders with his all-round game and could be prolific if given the service.

Tottenham Hotspur
Last Season: 2nd in Group B
Last Meeting: 0-3 (2009-10)

Spurs are a consistently impressive outfit at academy level, and showed as much at the end of last season in what was a rare recent meeting between themselves and Chelsea at this level. The fixture arises again towards the beginning of the upcoming campaign, and Alex Inglethorpe’s aim for the year will be usurping the dominant Leicester City – unbeaten last season – and topping Group B with the intention of winning the academy league crown. A number of their incoming first-years have experience in the side already, but one who doesn’t is former Blues schoolboy Freddie Champion, a versatile midfielder or forward.

Key Man: Laste Dombaxe – the pacy, tricky forward scored twice as a schoolboy at the end of last season and will be a threat to score in most fixtures, particularly as he possesses a decent long-range shot in his arsenal.

Last Season: 6th in Group B
Last Meeting: 4-0 (2009-10 Youth Cup)

Watford do academy football like no other in England. They incorporate many different sports into their methods as well as serving as a full time school and lodgings for many of their youngsters in Harefield. It’s worthy of much praise and mirrors some of the stuff done by the very top academies in the world, and perhaps indicative of the success they’re having for a club of their stature.

Key Man: Sean Murray – having signed a professional deal over the summer to ward off interest from Manchester City, the attacking midfielder will be looking to make further strides at a club he’s been with since 2002.

In tomorrow’s third and final part, we’ll take a look at Chelsea and how they look ahead of the big kick-off.