The season started and finished at Stamford Bridge, but the fact that only three players started both matches speaks volumes not only about the depth of quality in the ranks at this level, but the work done by Steve Holland and his coaching staff in juggling players on a game by game basis.
A total of forty players turned out for the so-called ‘second string’, including no fewer than three schoolboys and another outing for Fitness Coach Chris Jones, who put on his boots as a substitute against Manchester United with numbers thin.
The story of the first half of the season, without a shadow of a doubt, was the goalscoring antics of Fabio Borini.
After notching against Everton in the season opener, he struggled to find consistent fitness approaching Christmas, but nonetheless found the net seven times in five games, including a remarkable five-goal haul away to West Brom.
Shoulder surgery in November kept him out for three months but the goals continued to fly in upon his return, with a hat-trick against West Ham followed by a goal in each of the following three games.
He departed for Swansea with 12 goals and 4 assists in 8 appearances, and despite eight games still remaining on the schedule, he comfortably finished as top goalscorer.
In his absence, a dynamic trio of attackers stepped up and their combination play and versatility was a highlight of the campaign.
Adam Phillip, Milan Lalkovic and Gokhan Tore terrorised opposition defences, with the Slovakian’s work rate and running in behind complementing Phillip’s ability to come in off the left wing with devastating effect.
Add in Tore’s dribbling and freedom of space and you have a recipe for entertainment. They combined for eighteen goals and twelve assists and led the charge in Borini’s absence.
Academy Manager Neil Bath often talks about the reserve team in two phases; ‘Before Christmas’, and ‘After Christmas’. This means that the first half of the season typically sees a more experienced line-up before many depart on loan, at which point younger players from the Under-18s are summoned.
One such player this season was Todd Kane. The first-year scholar stepped up around the turn of the year and never looked back. He continued his terrific goalscoring form and capped the campaign with one of the goals of the season in the national final against Blackburn.
Other players who deserve nods of approval for their progress over the course of the season include Tomas Kalas, Billy Clifford and Nathaniel Chalobah, who were all consistent performers.
Kalas arrived from Sigma Olomouc mid-season and slotted into the back four immediately. It wasn’t long before he showed off his ability, combining athleticism with technique and has a mature tenacity about him.
Clifford moved from right back into the centre of midfield on a regular basis and showed he has craft to go along with his physical strengths, pulling the strings and laying on the chances for the front three.
Chalobah, meanwhile, played half the season as a 15 year-old and wasn’t even eligible to sign scholarship terms until March. He has, however, been full time since last season and is being fast-tracked on the road to the top.
Long-term injury victims Marko Mitrovic and Carl Magnay made their returns later in the season, and for Magnay, a year on the sidelines with a lot of hard work to return from a catastrophic knee problem was rewarded when he was able to lift the reserve league trophy.
Coming up tomorrow on TheChels…we cover the Youth Team.