The first half of the Under-18 season in England may have wound down in the final weeks before Christmas, but Chelsea’s youngsters have found time for three matches in seven days to end a highly successful calendar year and to look forward to an even better 2013.
Friendly draws against Cardiff City and Ipswich Town book-ended the week, with a goalless stalemate against Ajax in the Next Generation Series sandwiched in the middle.
The two friendly fixtures at Cobham afforded coach Adi Viveash (and indeed assistant Joe Edwards, who took charge of the Cardiff game) an opportunity to give much-needed playing time to a group of players who have, for one reason or another, struggled to find it during competitive league outings.
The likes of Chike Kandi and Ismail Seremba took full advantage of their chance to shine by finding the back of the net, whilst Burkinabe winger Bertrand Traore continued his fine friendly-only form with a brace against Cardiff last weekend. Jesse Starkey also grabbed himself a goal, and there were appearances for Ben Killip and Samuel Bangura and a return to action after concussion for Dion Conroy.
Schoolboys Ola Aina, Charlie Colkett and George Brady saw time with their older colleagues, whilst Chilean trialist Cristian Cuevas rounded off a week at Cobham with an appearance in the club’s colours.
George Cole suffered an unfortunate ankle injury, however, and may be sidelined for another lengthy period having already missed a fair chunk of this campaign.
Elsewhere, Aldershot Town’s EBB Stadium hosted continental midweek football as Ajax came to town and took a point away with them to secure qualification to the NextGen Series’ knockout stages.
The game was hardly a classic and was largely controlled by the Dutch outfit but Dermot Drummy’s young team had their moments and afforded ample playing time to three Under-16s in Charlie Colkett, Connor Hunte and Jeremie Boga. Ajax featured three players with first-team experience whilst Chelsea were deprived of George Saville and Lucas Piazon, who are on first team duty in Japan, as well as Patrick Bamford, Nathaniel Chalobah and Thorgan Hazard, who all featured on previous matchdays before heading out on loan.
As usual at this time of year, the Blues’ developmental squads will undergo something of a reshuffle, with some of the more experienced faces looking to challenge themselves with a loan move, allowing others to move up the ranks and for more schoolboys to get a chance to shine in the Under-18s.
Viveash’s team are safely through to the Elite Group of the Under-18 Premier League with a game to spare – they head to Fulham this Wednesday – and know the seven other teams they’ll be competing with.
Reading, Bolton Wanderers, Everton, Southampton, Manchester United, Fulham and Crystal Palace will all be on the new year agenda, with home and away fixtures against each ahead of ambitions to become national champions in April.
Drummy’s Under-21s are yet to confirm their fate, with an outside chance of an Elite berth still possible, although it is well out of their hands at this stage. Their opponents, be it in the Elite Group or in Tier One, are still to work themselves out.