Chelsea’s Under 18s continued their largely impressive start to the season with a 4-2 win over Liverpool at Cobham on Saturday morning.
Kasey Palmer scored twice either side of two goals which had put the visitors ahead for a short time, but the Blues took over in the second half and took all three points with goals from Dom Solanke and Ambrose Gnahore.
Adi Viveash handed a first appearance of the season to Gnahore, whilst George Brady partnered Jon Muleba at the heart of the defence for the first time from the start. Kevin Wright also added some experience at left-back and Jordan Houghton continued his comeback from injury in midfield, but there were so starts for schoolboys Solanke and Isaac Christie-Davies.
Liverpool’s team bore little resemblance to that which faced off against the Blues in the FA Youth Cup last season, and their new generation took a while to get going in a first half which was as frantic and high tempo as you might expect from two teams full of the exuberance of youth.
Charly Musonda caught the eye early and often, drawing gasps of admiration from the watching crowd on more than one occasion. He struck the outside of each post in the opening quarter of an hour, but two additional free kick attempts were less impressive.
Chelsea enjoyed the better of the early going and although Brady and Gnahore both fluffed half chances to secure the lead, Palmer wasn’t in the mood to be so forgiving. He opened the scoring with an exquisitely placed shot from 25 yards out; caressing the ball into the bottom corner, leaving Ryan Crump clutching at thin air.
Liverpool’s best moment until that point had been a tame strike by Harry Wilson easily saved by Brad Collins, but they offered a glimpse of their capability on the break as Ryan Kent in particular showed a clean pair of heels to Brady and Ola Aina on more than one occasion.
The hosts had opportunities to extend their advantage but there were times where they wanted to take too many touches before getting a shot away. Gnahore had undoubtedly the clearest of these many moments, but his goal bound shot was somehow diverted away for a corner at the last.
Liverpool equalised when they took advantage of a set piece situation. Musonda’s foul wide on the left allowed the Reds to pack the penalty box, and defender Dan Cleary was on hand to turn home at the far post when the delivery arrived.
Sheyi Ojo, once a Chelsea target, then contrived to miss a sitter, placing his shot wide of Collins’ goal when released one on one by the impressive Kent. The Liverpool number eleven was his team’s standout player and duly made further impact just before the break when he tormented the Blues’ back line and played in Adam Phillips, who finished in tidy fashion to ensure his side went in 2-1 up at the break.
An increase in rainfall shortly after the action resumed saw both teams panicking in defensive situations, but it was Chelsea who really took control over affairs and turned the game on its head with three goals in ten second half minutes. First, they got themselves on terms when Palmer added another glorious finish to his scrapbook, dinking home in style after Gnahore had played him in.
He then played a part in assisting a goal, linking well with Musonda, who remained patient before finding Solanke at the far post. He shifted inside onto his left foot and beat Crump from close range to make it 3-2.
Wilson might have immediately levelled things when he found time and space for a shot but he wanted to use his left foot when the right was the easier option, and he therefore shot wide. He would be made to pay too, as Chelsea put daylight between themselves and Liverpool in their next attack.
Having failed to find his mark with earlier efforts, Musonda handed over free kick duties to Gnahore. In fairness, Crump might have saved his strike around the wall, but a huge deflection took the ball in the other direction and into the back of the net for 4-2.
Liverpool were scarcely a threat after that, with the knowledge that they would have to score twice to salvage something from the game seemingly killing their spirit. None of their fresh legs from the bench provided impetus, whilst on the contrary Chelsea’s additions all put in valuable shifts; Dion Conroy guiding the younger Brady in defence, Mukhtar Ali tidying up in midfield, and Chike Kandi being a target to hit in attack for the last ten minutes.
He might have grabbed himself a goal when his shot squirmed under Crump and away for a corner, whilst Solanke and Palmer – now hunting a hat-trick – also tried to add gloss to the scoreline. It didn’t need it though, for as good as Liverpool were in dispatches, it was a deserved victory for a young Chelsea team which is beginning to pick up momentum as we head into the season properly.
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Brady, Muleba (Conroy) , Wright, Houghton (Kandi), Christie-Davies (Ali) , Musonda, Palmer, Gnahore, Solanke
Liverpool: Crump, Waldron, Hart, Cleary, Brewitt, Burke, Wilson, Phillips, Trickett-Smith, Ojo, Kent
Goals: Palmer 2, Solanke, Gnahore (Chelsea); Cleary, Phillips (Liverpool)
Booked: Cleary (Liverpool)