With six competitions and what is likely to be a packed schedule for 2013-14, pre-season preparations have seen two very distinct squads formed between the Under-21 and Under-18 teams. They’re both deep in terms of talent and depth, and whilst we’ll doubtless see a few players overlap between the two over the course of the campaign, the core of each team is easily identifiable as the big kick-off approaches.
Dermot Drummy’s Under-21 team features a host of names familiar to most Blues fans after their exploits in the FA Youth Cup and NextGen Series last season, but over the summer it has been supplemented by an injection of 16 year-old, first-year scholar talent. Jeremie Boga was a regular amongst their plans as a schoolboy and will remain heavily involved as he ‘officially’ becomes a full-time scholar, but Ola Aina and new signing Isaiah Brown also come into the fold at the same tender age.
(Chart not indicative of order of preference, but representative of general depth per position)
Big in stature and big in ability, they each provide something which could have been considered lacking amongst the group. Aina brings supreme physical ability to the right-back slot, in which he’ll compete against Fankaty Fabo for playing time, whilst the highly-rated Brown arrives from West Bromwich Albion having already made his Premier League debut.
A prolific summer with goals against assorted non-league clubs ensured a seamless transition to his new club and integrating him with the likes of Alex Kiwomya and Islam Feruz promises an even more potent strike force at the head of a team full of creativity and swagger.
Despite the usual slew of loanees having departed, Drummy can still call upon the services of Nathan Aké, Andreas Christensen and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, each of whom saw some involvement with the first team at the back end of last season, whilst Feruz and the highly entertaining Bertrand Traore travelled east with Jose Mourinho’s squad in July.
Traore, should he become eligible to feature in competitive English football, will bring a mature yet explosive game to the ranks, and, as is the case at first team level, a rare left foot in attack. That in itself was part of the reason for the swift acceleration into the reserve team ranks of Connor Hunte, but he departed the club just as quickly during the off-season, leaving a role to be filled.
New professionals Dion Conroy, Isak Ssewankambo, Mitchell Beeney, Ben Killip, Dabo, Loftus-Cheek and others make up the majority of the squad, whilst Jack Powell arrives on a one-year deal from West Ham United and provides midfield versatility and depth.
With such a marked graduation from the Under-18 ranks, it leaves Adi Viveash with as young a squad as he’s ever had since moving up from schoolboy level coaching himself.
(Chart not indicative of order of preference, but representative of general depth per position. Schoolboys with pre-season involvement listed in Italics)
Once again, the midfield is a considerable source of quality and depth as Charlie Colkett, Charly Musonda, George Cole and Kasey Palmer all featured to various degrees last season. Schoolboys Isaac Christie-Davies, Ruben Sammut and Mukhtar Ali have all been involved during pre-season and bring a little more grit and presence to the group, but by and large it’s an area of the team full of finesse, sharpness of touch and of mind, and designed to transition the play at great speed.
In defence, George Brady and Jonathan Muleba have already built up a strong understanding, with Muleba’s leadership and aggressive style meshing well with the younger Brady’s size and authority. Swedish Under-17 international Ali Suljic will also come into the reckoning, whilst Jordan Houghton’s recovery from a long-term injury will likely see him play in both defence and midfield ahead of moving onto Under-21 football when fully match fit.
The full-back slots are, by comparison, inexperienced, and whilst Muleba and Aina will feature at right-back from time to time, there will be chances to push on for Fikayo Tomori and Charlie Wakefield. On the other side of the pitch, Jay Da Silva has been pencilled in with Kevin Wright having joined Adam Nditi at Under-21 level, and he has arguably been the most impressive of all of those handed the chance to jump up ahead of schedule.
In attack, Reece Mitchell’s return from a broken leg is a timely boost and, like Houghton, he’ll feature for a while as he attempts to make up for lost time in getting to the next level. Chike Kandi and Anjur Osmanovic have impressed in pre-season and are good players in their own rights, and will be counted upon to lead and help out the next generation of forwards. Dominic Solanke scored twice for the youth team as an Under-15 last season and is joined by Tammy Abraham and Nias Butungu in Viveash’s versatile forward line.
Former Barcelona winger Josimar Quintero, an Ecuadorian youngster capable of playing anywhere on the right hand side, will arrive during August to boost both quality and numbers.
As always, it’s going to be a busy, dramatic and highly entertaining season. You can keep entirely up to date throughout here at TheChels.net, and on Twitter @chelseayouth.