To complete our preview of the forthcoming Premier Academy League, we take a look at Chelsea themselves.
The Under-18s have a new manager and eleven new first year scholars, but very little will actually change.
Adrian Viveash steps up from the Under-16 ranks to fill Dermot Drummy’s post, with the ex-Arsenal man taking over at Reserve level. That in turn means he will once again be working with a group of players he coached as schoolboys last season.
Such continuity is not unusual at Chelsea and has happened under the reigns of both Drummy and of Paul Clement before him in recent seasons, and it certainly has its benefits.
Viveash will have increased contact time with his young charges, who have graduated school and will spend the majority of their week at Cobham training, and with a solid foundation in place, there’s already much to build upon.
Throw in half a dozen or so schoolboys who have already secured scholarships for next summer AND debuted for the Under-18 team late last season (as then-Under-15s) and the squad is set to be a young one, but one with great potential.
The squad is littered with junior internationals at Under-16 and Under-17 levels but is also predominantly home-grown and locally sourced. The Blues’ 2011 intake features just two overseas imports, a number as low as any around the Premier League.
Last season’s ninth place finish doesn’t tell the fully story about a campaign which was far more about the development of individual talent than it was achieving results on the pitch.
Nineteen total schoolboys – a club and league record – turned out in league action and held their own for the most part. Such experiences will serve them well both now and down the road, with each being challenged to take their game to the next level ahead of the expected curve.
Physically, it often meant that the Blues gave up a considerable size advantage to their opponents often as much as two years older, but Drummy’s boys were rarely overawed and let their football do the talking.
Expect much of the same this season, but hopefully with improved results as a bonus too.
Breaking down the team, Mitchell Beeney is likely to feature early and often in goal, with little by way of alternative to challenge him.
Reserve team goalkeeper Sam Walker has gone out on loan with Rhys Taylor expected to join him, leaving Jamal Blackman as the lone custodian for the club’s second string, which means Beeney must step up in his final year before becoming a scholar.
Already blessed with impressive size, Mitchell has featured for the Reserves in pre-season and comes from good stock, with his father Mark having served as the academy’s goalkeeping coach for almost a decade after a career as a Premier League backup at Leeds.
The back four will largely feature players who are exceptionally versatile and athletic. The likes of Ali Gordon and Sam Bangura can all play across the line, whilst Dutch arrival Nathan Aké offers a left-footed option in defence or midfield. Unfortunately, full-back Nortei Nortey has suffered a second serious knee injury in as many seasons and will miss the first half of the campaign.
Gordon, a natural leader, is a strong candidate for captain and could partner Alex Davey at centre-back. Davey played more than 20 times last season and made his reserve debut against Manchester United in April.
Archange Nkumu, fresh from signing professional terms in the summer, will be the experienced hand in a young unit but will be looking to step up to the reserves on a regular basis.
England youth internationals Jordan Houghton and Fankaty Dabo have impressed for club and country in 2011 and will be pressing for playing time from the start of the season.
The midfield is an intriguing area, headlined by two exceptionally capable technicians who the club have very high hopes for.
John Swift and Lewis Baker bring guile, craft and creativity to the table and in the same team could be amongst the star performers in their age group.
Swift debuted for the Under-18s at 14 but missed a lot of last season injured and will be hoping to make up for lost time. Baker, meanwhile, is blessed with remarkable ability off either foot and has recently been away with England’s Under-17 team.
They’ll be joined by Swedish pair Amin Affane and Anjur Osmanovic, who will now both be settled after a year in England and ready to make more of an impact.
Danny Stenning will unfortunately miss the entire season with a serious knee injury, but James Ashton returns after almost two full years on the sidelines and will undoubtedly see some youth team action as he desperately needs game time.
The midfielder has spent pre-season with the reserve team but can still feature as an overage player and as a first year scholar promised much by way of midfield fluency and composure in a class which featured Josh McEachran and Billy Clifford.
Tom Howard offers a versatile body either central or out wide after a troubled two years himself, whilst left-footed pair Adam Nditi and Reece Loudon can play at full-back or on the wing and inject pace and directness into the team going forward.
Nditi benefitted most from Loudon’s first year as a scholar during which injuries caused many problems, and excites with his mazy dribbling skills.
Defenders Houghton, Aké and Gordon can all play in the anchoring midfield role, whilst the towering Ruben Loftus-Cheek will be involved after doing well late last season.
In attack, the team lacks a true central striker but has a number of smaller, trickier players who are at their best running in space and at speed.
Walter Figueira possesses the most prolific goalscoring touch of the group and found the back of the net four times last season. As eye-catching for his hair as anything else, he has an instinctive nature in front of goal and is as tenacious as they come.
Ismail Seremba is taller and stronger and prefers to lead the line but has more often been used in a wide role, where his dribbling ability can be used to full effect. The same applies to the much smaller Reece Mitchell, a schoolboy who has represented England’s Under-16s.
George Cole will also get a look on both wings, whilst the intriguing prospect of Burkinabe winger Bertrand Traore also lies in wait. He featured in pre-season but may lack the necessary paperwork to feature competitively this season.
Alex Kiwomya is a very young Under-16 but is another who has been fast-tracked, and the multi-talented nephew of ex-Arsenal striker Chris has received much attention since his move from Rotherham.
A junior national athletics champion over 100m (with a personal best time of 10.98s), Alex is no mean footballer and is a natural goalscorer capable with either foot.
A young, physically small group it may be, but it has the potential to produce some of the best players the club has worked with in recent years. The group has had great success at home and abroad in the last two seasons and plays eye-catching, effective football.
The boys get their campaign underway this weekend away to Newcastle United before returning to Cobham to host Crewe in their first home game.
You can keep up to date with everything throughout the campaign with unrivalled coverage here at TheChels.net and on Twitter by following @chelseayouth.