Chelsea’s Under-21s shared the spoils with Manchester United following a hard-fought and typically high-quality league clash at Stamford Bridge on Remembrance Sunday.
The visitors were afforded the chance to take the lead early in the second half when Ola Aina was harshly adjudged to have handled the ball inside his own penalty area but whilst Will Keane converted from the spot, Andreas Christensen headed an equaliser to ensure Adi Viveash’s team took a deserved point.
Dan Davies’ always-excellent match gallery is available for viewing HERE.
Viveash had plenty of options to choose from in the Under-21s’ first match at the club’s home since last October and the strength of his selection was clear when neither Charlie Colkett nor the slightly injured Jeremie Boga could find a way into the starting eleven. Mitchell Beeney captained the team in goal with a back four of Fankaty Dabo, Aina, Christensen and Jay Dasilva.
Lewis Baker made just his fourth Chelsea appearance of the season at any level alongside Ruben Loftus-Cheek in midfield whilst Charly Musonda got the nod at number ten in Boga’s absence. Alex Kiwomya and Isaiah Brown flanked Dominic Solanke in attack.
Man Utd were without a few of their more senior players with Patrick McNair and James Wilson increasingly involved in their first team squad but many of their squad have featured under Louis van Gaal already, perhaps most notably Tyler Blackett at centre-back. They lacked a number of midfield regulars but from the very first whistle were well-drilled by manager Warren Joyce and looked a unit that Chelsea would do well to break down.
Solanke quickly went to work in attempting to cause problems for the more experienced Blackett and Tom Thorpe at the heart of the Reds’ defence and his muscular approach almost saw Brown played in only for the visitors to clear their lines. He was diligent in defence too though, clearing off the line when Liam Grimshaw connected with a corner at the other end.
Chances were few and far between in a very cagey first half but Chelsea began to enjoy the better of the game and looked the more likely to make something happen. Aina crashed an ambitious effort over the crossbar from close to 40 yards out whilst Ben Amos did well to react to Baker’s deflected effort from the right side of the box. In response Beeney got down well to keep out a testing effort from Brazilian Under-20 international Andreas Pereira before Keane escaped for a moment of promise that fizzled out when he dragged his shot well wide.
Kiwomya did the same for Chelsea as they upped the ante close to the break and although Christensen headed over it was Loftus-Cheek who had the best moment of the day when he found space and time to meet Brown’s cross but could only plant his header wide of the far post.
The visitors took the lead inside a minute of the restart. Those in attendance on a sunny November afternoon in West London had barely retaken their seats for the second half when the referee pointed to the penalty spot for an alleged handball against defender Aina. Television replays would reveal the decision an especially harsh one but Keane did his job with the minimum of fuss, dispatching his kick into the far corner with Beeney helpless despite going the right way.
Viveash reacted almost instantly, introducing Boga from the bench with the unusually quiet Musonda withdrawn in a straight swap. Man Utd should’ve been two to the good by that point though as Blackett found himself in a brilliant position following a tremendously quick break but he sliced his shot well wide and into the empty Shed End seats.
Chelsea prodded and probed, primarily through schemer Baker, for a way back into the match but found stout resistance from their guests for the day. Nonetheless they would find themselves on terms midway through the second half as two of the more senior players combined to equalise. Baker’s deep corner from the right fooled Amos in flight and with the United stopper flapping at thin air, Christensen rose highest to thump his header into the back of the net.
The goal gave the Blues plenty of momentum and they poured forwards with ambition and a desire to turn the game around fully. Solanke twice might have done better when well set but put his first shot wide and then, following an enticing through ball by Dabo, looked to chip Amos only to see the young stopper redeem himself with a smart adjustment of his feet to pluck the ball out of the winter sky.
Pereira and Aina had a scrap or two which saw the former lucky not to receive what would have been a second yellow card whilst the latter had his name taken for a swipe of the legs that owed much to that which had gone before it, but Pereira also threatened Beeney’s goal with a left-footed effort that skidded wide late on.
Viveash used Jordan Houghton and Alex Davey late on with Loftus-Cheek and Dasilva making way – the latter with a minor knock – and at the death they might have won it when Baker forced Amos into another fine save, back-pedalling to palm away a fine free kick effort. Houghton had a sight of the target from the ensuing corner but headed over whilst stumbling to the turf to leave the finals score at 1-1; an outcome that just about reflected the course of the match.
Chelsea: Beeney (c), Dabo, Aina, Christensen, Dasilva (Davey 85), Baker, Loftus-Cheek (Houghton 75), Musonda (Boga 53), Kiwomya, Brown, Solanke
Subs not Used: Granger, Colkett
Goals: Christensen 63
Booked: Aina, Brown
Manchester United: Amos, Janko, James, Vermijl, Thorpe (c), Blackett, Love, Grimshaw, Keane, Pereira, Weir
Subs not Used: Goss, O’Hara, Evans, Willock, Fletcher
Goals: Keane 46 pen
Booked: Janko, Pereira