Chelsea got the defence of their Barclays Under-21 Premier League title off to a winning start on Friday night with a narrow 2-1 victory over a very good Manchester City team at the Electrical Services Stadium in Aldershot.
The visitors led for almost the entire match through defender Pablo Maffeo but despite starting badly the Blues grew in stature the longer the game went on and deservedly drew level when Maffeo put through his own net. A red card for Shay Facey allowed Chelsea to push on late in the day and Belgian Under-19 starlet Charly Musonda smuggled away all the points in the second minute of added time.
View Dan Davies’ match gallery HERE.
Adi Viveash was able to name an experienced side for his first competitive action as Under-21 manager following a promotion from the youth team ranks and included eight players who featured under Jose Mourinho during the first team’s pre-season. Mitchell Beeney kept goal behind a defence of Ola Aina, Nathaniel Chalobah, Andreas Christensen and Todd Kane, playing slightly out of position at left-back.
Lewis Baker donned the captain’s armband in an exciting midfield trio also featuring Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Charlie Colkett whilst Jeremie Boga and Alex Kiwomya flanked Patrick Bamford in attack. The Blues possessed considerably more experience in their starting eleven than a youthful Manchester City but an early lack of cohesion appeared to owe much to a fractured summer schedule during which scarce few of them actually played alongside each other.
A less testing opening day fixture might have allowed them to find their feet a little more easily but Manchester City were national Semi Finalists last season before falling to Dermot Drummy’s charges and Patrick Vieira was able to call upon seven of those who featured that night at the Etihad to start here at Aldershot. His faith in familiarity was justified inside the opening three minutes when Maffeo reacted fastest to a loose ball in the box from a corner and slammed home a shot via Bamford’s deflection-friendly torso.
The hosts looked less than certain when going about their early business with misplaced passes aplenty allowing a lively City front three to take full advantage of the turnovers they were being afforded. Chelsea were dogged in their efforts to at least muster a response but neither Bamford nor Loftus-Cheek could fully capitalise on the glimpses of goal they were able to carve out for himself.
Austrian forward Sinan Bytyqi struck the woodwork for the Citizens with a strike Beeney seemed to have covered before the Chelsea stopper was forced into making a smart low save from Devante Cole after the young son of ex-England international forward Andy had escaped the attentions of the below-par Aina and Chalobah.
The slow start did eventually give way to a more responsive and impressive showing from the defending champions as they fashioned a series of good openings in the run up to half time. Colkett, making his first start at this level, proved the architect of plenty of nice approach play and in combination with Boga allowed the French winger to test Angus Gunn in the City goal for the first time on the night.
Goalscorer Maffeo turned in a sterling defensive performance too, blocking a goal-bound Boga strike before throwing himself in front of Kiwomya’s fierce volley after an inventive piece of football involving Colkett and Bamford. The last word did however go to City as Aina’s slip allowed Cole to race clear on goal before dragging his shot wide of Beeney’s far post instead of extending the lead at a crucial point in the contest.
A more purposeful Chelsea team came out anxious to restore parity and although Bytyqi shot wastefully wide for Man City early after the restart it was Baker who spurned an even more glaring opportunity on 52 minutes. Boga’s pass was turned around the corner by Bamford to release the Blues’ captain but he couldn’t open his account for another prolific season, instead shooting tamely at Gunn from twelve yards out.
Colkett was withdrawn for the lively legs of Musonda to signal a ten-minute spell where further arrivals, including that of Dominic Solanke for Patrick Bamford, impacted upon the flow of the match although Cole did quickly scamper onto a through ball from Ntcham and looked to be in on goal before a timely intervention by Aina dealt with the danger.
The same man went one better with a quarter of an hour remaining as he latched onto yet another incisive pass and this time went round Beeney but was then unable to beat Christensen, who stopped low to head off the line and keep Chelsea in the game. It proved a vital interception as an equaliser arrived less than two minutes later when Maffeo, who had been so impressive overall, turned into his own net from close range as Aina’s cross caused confusion for the City defence.
It set everything up for a dramatic finale, one which would take another turn in the hosts’ favour when Facey was dismissed for his second caution of the game as he hauled Solanke down as the young striker was running clear into space left behind the back four. It left the tiring visitors with just over ten minutes of hard work to take a point back home with them but they couldn’t quite hold out as Musonda confidently swept home Kiwomya’s deflected cross to ensure a winning start for the Blues in 2014-15.
Chelsea: Beeney, Aina, Chalobah, Christensen, Kane, Baker (c), Loftus-Cheek, Colkett (Musonda 54), Kiwomya, Boga, Bamford (Solanke 65)
Subs: Collins, Dabo, Houghton
Goals: Maffeo OG ‘77, Musonda ’90
Manchester City: Gunn, Bossaerts, Maffeo, Facey, Angelino, Glendon (c), Fofana, Ntcham (Horsfield 64), Bytyqi, Cole, Ambrose (Hiwula 60)
Subs: Lawlor, Byrne, Pozo
Goals: Maffeo ‘3
Booked: Ntcham, Facey
Sent Off: Facey