Chelsea’s Under-21s recorded their fourth win of the season on Sunday morning with a 2-1 victory over Manchester City courtesy of first half goals from John Swift and Andreas Christensen.
It was hardly a vintage performance from either side but in much the same way that the Under-18s did so 24 hours earlier, the Blues took their chances in the first half and did just enough over the course of the match to come out on top.
Dermot Drummy was able to include Czech international centre-back Tomas Kalas in his starting eleven, marking a return to action for the defender who broke his leg during pre-season. He lined up alongside Christensen in the heart of the defence, with Isak Ssewankambo at right-back and captain Nathan Aké shifted to left-back, and Mitchell Beeney deputising for Jamal Blackman in goal.
Lewis Baker and Ruben Loftus-Cheek took their duties in the middle of the park, whilst the in-form Swift once again took the number ten shirt. Alex Kiwomya and Isaiah Brown continued out wide, flanking centre-forward Islam Feruz.
City, captained by recent first team graduate Marcos Lopes, started with good intensity and focus – the hallmarks of their coach, the former Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira – but found a robust blue back line in their way and were unable to ask questions of the yellow-clad Beeney in the home goal.
Chelsea had made the decision to defend the Shed End in the first half, turning their opponents around due to the bright morning sun, and the decision paid early dividends as the opening goal arrived after just eight minutes.
Aké went off on a cavalier run down the left flank and delivered a cross from close to the corner flag. The ball hung high in the air towards the far post, and Swift arrived on time to tower above Greg Leigh and slam a header home past goalkeeper Ian Lawlor, who will doubtless have struggled to track the ball in the dazzling sky.
It was Swift’s third goal in four outings and fifth competitive strike of the season, following a productive campaign of summer friendlies where he bagged another half a dozen. Drummy revealed back in April that the young midfielder had been spending some time working on his game with Frank Lampard, and working with Chelsea’s record goalscorer has evidently produced fantastic short-term results.
City found themselves on the back foot thereafter and saw midfielder George Evans booked for a clumsy late challenge on Loftus-Cheek. The big Chelsea midfielder picked himself up to force a good save from Lawlor minutes later, firing a strike in at the near post after beating three defenders with impressive close footwork.
Nevertheless, the visitors had the players to threaten and midway through the first half they showed what they were capable of. Lopes and Sinan Bytyqi linked up well to produce a chance for Devante Cole, but the young son of former England international Andy was prevented from turning the ball into an open net by a last-ditch tackle by the impressive Aké.
Albert Rusnak and Jason Denayer each then had half-chances but the former was the only one to work Beeney, and in truth it was a fairly routine save. It certainly wasn’t enough to truly worry Drummy or his young players and as the half drew to a close, it was the hosts who finished the stronger. Kiwomya cut inside from the wing and shot wide from the edge of the box before the lead was doubled – and decisively so – in stoppage time.
Swift’s corner was low and to the near post, where Baker attempted to rescue things with an improvised flick. The ball found its way to Brown, who forced it to the back post, allowing Christensen to prod it over the line from a yard or two out to make it 2-0 with the last touch of the first 45 minutes.
Vieira had cut a frustrated figure on the touchline and made changes at the break, bringing the hard-working Adam Drury on for Shay Facey at right-back, and his arrival served as the impetus for the rest of his team-mates to follow his energetic lead. His cross shortly after found a dangerous area, but it was effortlessly tidied up by the returning Kalas.
The visitors continued to work harder in a bid to reduce the deficit, and it meant that Chelsea’s forwards found themselves isolated for long periods of time. Lamisha Musonda replaced Kiwomya just before the hour to freshen things up, and moments later Brown should have put the game to bed when Swift picked him out unmarked at the far post, but his header was poor and over the crossbar.
Bytyqi followed Evans into the referee’s notebook for a robust yet probably fair tackle on Baker before Vieira made his second change. Jordi Hiwula, a forward who missed most of last season through injury, replaced the ineffective Cole, and needed less than ten minutes to make his presence felt. Denayer skipped out of defence and into Chelsea territory, found Drury, who squared for the substitute to make it 2-1 from six yards out.
It made for a tense and at times chaotic last quarter of an hour, one in which Chelsea found themselves heavily pinned back. Ssewankambo picked up an injury and was replaced by Alex Davey, but there was also a return from a recent layoff for Jeremie Boga, who replaced Loftus-Cheek for a late cameo.
Lopes and Fofana both had wild late efforts for City, but their moment of truth fell to Slovakian winger Rusnak, who contrived to over-hit a cross when given time and space to measure it up. Beeney made a smart late save again from Fofana as Chelsea just about held on to claim victory.
Chelsea: Beeney, Ssewankambo (Davey), Kalas, Christensen, Aké, Baker, Loftus-Cheek (Boga), Swift, Kiwomya (L. Musonda), Brown, Feruz
Subs not Used: Killip, Wright
Manchester City: Lawlor, Facey (Drury), Denayer, Plummer, Leigh, Evans (Glendon), Fofana, Lopes (c), Rusnak, Bytyqi, Cole (Hiwula)
Subs not Used: Gunn, Hutton
Goals: Swift, Christensen (CFC); Hiwula (MCFC)