Catching Up With The Youngsters

For one reason or another, it’s been a little while without a youth team match report, so let’s have a catch-up.

The academy fixture list presented three away games in the last four, and with the home date against Cardiff clashing with first team commitments at Upton Park, the opportunity to see the Under-18s first hand hasn’t quite been there.

That doesn’t mean the interest wanes however, far from it. Keen followers of TheChelsOrg and ChelseaYouth on Twitter will have been kept well apprised of goings on both on and off the field.

Results, and indeed performances, have been a mixed bag. The opening day defeat to Manchester United was followed by a well-fought goalless draw away to Sheffield Wednesday, and only a late equaliser denied them a win at Coventry after Philipp Prosenik had given the Blues the lead with a deft chip from close range.

The return to Cobham saw a win registered at the fourth attempt as Austrian forward Prosenik notched the only goal against Cardiff, but a second defeat arrived this past weekend in the form of a 4-2 defeat away to Tottenham in a highly eventful game at Spurs Lodge.

A brace from Alex Pritchard gave the hosts a first half lead against an extremely young Chelsea team, featuring four first-year scholars and a schoolboy in the starting line-up, with two more coming off the bench.

Dermot Drummy’s charged turned the game on its head after the restart though, with goals from Todd Kane and Bobby Devyne levelling proceedings either side of a penalty stop from Jamal Blackman to deny Pritchard a hat-trick.

Unfortunately, two late goals from Kudus Oyenuga secured a third straight success for the Lilywhites over Chelsea at this level, following a 4-0 defeat late last season and a 5-0 reverse at Cobham in 2008/09.

One thing which has remained consistent – by and large – so far is the lineup. With a number of second year players having been promoted into the reserve team squad ahead of time, a smaller group exists at academy level.

Blackman, Devyne, Kane, Prosenik, George Saville, Ben Sampayo and Anton Rodgers have been ever-present starters thus far, whilst Danny Stenning has featured in all five outings, and Archange Nkumu and Mesca have missed just one match each.

Drummy revealed that this allows the team to work on match situations in training, increasing cohesion and familiarity, and allowing for a more defined structure than the club has been able to enjoy with this age group for some time.

Nevertheless, the staff at Cobham have not been afraid to blood the next generation, with five schoolboys having made appearances so far, and young goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney serving as backup to Blackman on the substitute’s bench.

Expect this to continue throughout the campaign, picking up in the new year as the tradition of involving next summer’s scholars in the setup late in their final year of school continues.

It’s a growing philosophy across all levels at the club, and it’s a forward-thinking one done for all the right reasons.

If a player has shown that he can more than hold his own amongst those of his age, there must be the opportunity to take the next step and challenge an older age group.

The victorious reserve team from Thursday night’s 3-2 win at Newcastle had an average age of just 17 year and 4 months and included 15 year-old Nathaniel Chalobah, who is a perfect example of this practice.

Rather than play at Under-16 level with those of his age group, or play at Under-18 level where he’s shown himself to be more than capable, Chelsea have given him the opportunity to test himself against older teenagers, players in their early 20s, and in some fixtures to come adult professionals with the benefit of experience.

Some will argue that it can have a negative effect and show a player’s flaws and weaknesses, perhaps resulting in a loss of confidence, but if handled correctly by everyone involved, it’s a succesful move to make.

The Reserve team themselves have had just that Newcastle match in the past three weeks but it’s been an exciting time for many in Steve Holland’s ranks.

Conor Clifford followed Jeffrey Bruma’s lead in signing a new contract, whilst the Dutchman returned from hernia surgery to make his first appearance of the season in the first team against Blackpool on Sunday.

Gael Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt and debutant Josh McEachran have also taken to the field under Carlo Ancelotti’s tutelage and with the Carling Cup looming large on the horizon this week, there could be more to come.

Now wouldn’t that be nice?

(picture courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club)