Chelsea’s Barclays Under-21 Premier League campaign got off to a less than auspicious start on Friday evening as they lost 4-2 to Tottenham Hotspur at Aldershot’s EBB Stadium.
Despite having taken the lead through a Josh McEachran penalty, the young Blues were at times overwhelmed by an older and more determined Tottenham side, who scored three before half time and saw the game out in the second half with professionalism and comfort. Isaiah Brown grabbed a debut goal late in the day to give the scoreline more respectability but Chelsea were well beaten overall.
Dermot Drummy – who was actually serving a one-match touchline ban on the night – selected an exceptionally strong starting eleven in which neither Lewis Baker nor Islam Feruz, both standout performers last season, were able to feature. Owing to fine pre-season performances, Brown and John Swift were included from the off, whilst McEachran was joined by Nathaniel Chalobah in turning out ahead of loans move yet to be finalised.
Nathan Aké captained the team alongside Chalobah at centre-back, with Andreas Christensen and Kevin Wright slotting into the full-back positions. Ruben Loftus-Cheek joined Swift and McEachran in the centre of the pitch, leaving Alex Kiwomya and Jeremie Boga to flank Brown in attack.
Tottenham’s team saw Tom Carroll and Harry Kane lead an impressive group of players which finished as national runners-up to Manchester United last season, and whilst they were an hour late in arriving to the stadium (meaning a delay of 45 minutes to the scheduled kick-off), they were quick out of the blocks and might have been ahead early when Falque failed to apply the finish following Kane’s opportunistic closing down of Chelsea goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney.
Spurs enjoyed the better of the opening ten minutes but the hosts found their feet thereafter and had a fine chance to ahead when Boga released Brown with an excellent through-ball, but the summer arrival from West Bromwich Albion shot straight at Jordan Archer in the Tottenham goal and should have done much better.
Boga was proving a threat cutting in from the left and when Chelsea went ahead after 18 minutes, it was the Frenchman who was central to the goal. He beat five white shirts on a trademark jinking run before spotting Loftus-Cheek free on the edge of the box. Before he could shoot, he was fouled in a rather clumsy manner, allowing McEachran to step up and beat Archer from twelve yards to make it 1-0.
Rather than the goal giving the Blues momentum, however, it sparked Tottenham into life. They stepped up a gear or two and played the better, more productive football, and after Kane had put a free kick just over the crossbar, Falque struck the woodwork from close range.
Kane and Carroll both had half-chances before the equaliser arrived, coming with half an hour on the clock. Kane’s cross from the left found Falque, who waited patiently for space in which he could fire past Beeney from six yards out.
McEachran’s involvement in proceedings was unfortunately curtailed prematurely after he suffered a knock to his right foot, and with a long season ahead and no risks necessary at this stage, Lewis Baker took over his duties for the night.
The change, combined with Tottenham equalising, saw Chelsea’s performance look a little fractured and uncertain, and the visitors went in for the kill by grabbing two more goals before half time. Falque doubled his tally with a finely-executed follow-up after Beeney had saved superbly from Shaq Coulthirst, and moments later Kane stole a yard on Chalobah which allowed him to drill a low shot into the far corner.
Boga threatened to reduce the arrears in stoppage time with a fine free kick but Archer did well to keep it out with the last touch of an entertaining first half which saw Tottenham go in 3-1 up.
Andy Myers – deputising for the suspended Drummy – opted for an aggressive response by bringing Feruz on for Swift in a bid to add more firepower into the Blues’ line-up. He started out on the left, with Boga coming inside and Baker dropping back to partner Loftus-Cheek deeper in midfield. It didn’t result in any real tangible improvement in play though, and instead Spurs put the game to bed shortly before the hour.
Chelsea twice failed to clear their lines in attempting to get out from deep in their left-back corner, allowing Kane to size up another shot at goal. He struck the post, but Coulthirst was alive quickest to bundle home the loose ball for a fourth goal.
Baker, as he so often does, sought to lift the spirits of his team-mates and released Feruz with a fantastic pass which was duly converted, but the raised flag of the assistant referee denied the Scottish forward a first goal of the season; offside having been called against him.
The visitors took their foot off the gas with the game and points sewn up, whilst Chelsea made their final substitution as Isak Ssewankambo entered the game in relief of the injured Kevin Wright. Nabil Bentaleb lashed a shot over at one end before earning a booking at the other, following Alex McQueen and Dominic Ball into the book on the night.
Beeney made a series of good saves late on – especially one from man of the match Kane – to prevent the scoreline becoming a rout, and there was a fourth booking for Spurs when the lively and influential Carroll had his name taken for a very deliberate foul.
Chelsea got a consolation effort with three minutes left when Aké lofted a ball over the top for Brown to chase, and the big forward marked his first official appearance for the club with a smart finish between Archer’s legs. Having scored, he was then the victim of a late and unnecessary lunge by Bentaleb, who was shown a second yellow card and earned his marching orders in the process.
The Blues are next in action on Friday 16th August as they head to St Mary’s Stadium to face Southampton.
Chelsea: Beeney, Christensen, Chalobah, Aké (c), Wright (Ssewankambo 71), Swift (Feruz 45), Loftus-Cheek, McEachran (Baker 38), Boga, Kiwomya, Brown
Subs not Used: Killip, Davey
Tottenham Hotspur: Archer, Fredericks (c), Ball, Stewart (Lameiras 68), A. McQueen (Ward 74), Gallifuoco, Carroll, Bentaleb, Falque, Coulthirst (D. McQueen 77), Kane
Subs not Used: Miles, McEneff
Goals: McEachran ’18 pen, Falque ’31, ’40, Kane ’42, Coulthirst ’56, Brown ‘87
Booked: McQueen, Ball, Bentaleb, Carroll (Tottenham)
Sent Off: Bentaleb (Tottenham)
Dan Davies’ typically excellent gallery of the night’s action can be seen HERE.