To the untrained eye, this Chelsea Under-21 team could pass for their senior counterparts, at least in terms of approach.
Dominic Solanke has a passing physical resemblance to Diego Costa whilst being asked to perform some of the Brazilian-turned-Spaniard’s lone striker duties. Jeremie Boga buzzes around with the flair and verve of Eden Hazard whilst Charly Musonda probes and works endlessly in pursuit of Oscar-like success. For Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas see Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Lewis Baker, and you could go on.
Nobody will make the mistake of directly comparing the two teams but as Adi Viveash’s younger charges begin the defence of their national Under-21 league title they do so chasing a higher standard than ever before and are bidding to emulate their superiors down to the finest detail in the hope of one day joining them.
Last weekend’s win over Manchester City was the result of hard graft and a little fortune but this latest triumph over Norwich City came more easily and on another afternoon in the Hampshire sun the margin of victory might have been more comprehensive. And perhaps so it should be, considering the relative difference between the two clubs; the Canaries are a Division One side at Category One level but fielded three players – Ben Killip, Reiss Awuah and Cameron McGeehan – who were previously considered not good enough to remain in Chelsea blue.
Killip had a starring role in keeping the result respectable for his team as he produced two saves of genuinely world-class quality but a goalkeeper’s life is fraught with what-ifs and despite his acrobatic excellence he may find himself thinking about the soft manner in which Boga was allowed to open the scoring with half an hour on the clock.
The young Frenchman has a penchant for picking the ball up deep in midfield before turning on a sixpence and heading for the hills. Over the past eight or so months someone at Chelsea appears to have had a word in his ear encouraging him to shoot more often and the results have been tangible, as those who watched any of the summer’s first team friendly action will attest to.
Killip seemed deceived by his powerful strike, adjusting his position late as if fooled by a deflection, but it would likely have mattered little. Solanke doubled the lead minutes later when he was suitably on hand to turn into an unguarded net following Charlie Colkett’s square ball and that was that as far as the game as a contest went. Had a dubious flag from the linesman not brought a premature end to a dominant move of twenty-something passes late in the first half, we might have been given an early goal of the season candidate.
It wasn’t always smooth though – it rarely is at this level – and Viveash’s familiarly strained chords were audible throughout a second half that lacked much in terms of control and composure by the hosts. Veteran striker Luciano Becchio escaped the attentions of an otherwise impeccable Andreas Christensen to head City back within a goal of parity and with Loftus-Cheek in particular frustrating again with an inconsistent midfield outing, the spectacle became rather bedraggled as if more at home on a school playground.
Colkett’s eye for the unlikely and Solanke’s predatory instincts almost resulted in a highlight-reel effort but Killip was able to intervene, whilst Boga crashed a long-range daisy cutter against his right hand post. Both delayed the inevitable as Chelsea reasserted their ascendancy and recaptured their two-hour lead shortly after the hour when Baker showed intelligence and awareness to drill the ball into a crowd of mainly yellow shirts looking for a touch. Becchio obliged in turning past his own keeper.
Solanke and substitute Alex Kiwomya spurned chances later on whilst Killip’s light burned brightest with those saves from Baker and Loftus-Cheek that drew awestruck gasps from the few hundred that gave their Sunday afternoon to the Barclays Under-21 Premier League. They will have headed home having watched a Chelsea team that whilst not yet at full speed is well on its way to mounting another challenge for honours in 2014-15.
Chelsea: Beeney, Dabo, Aina, Christensen, Aké, Baker (c), Loftus-Cheek, Boga, Musonda, Colkett (Kiwomya), Solanke (Mitchell)
Subs not Used: Collins, Davey, Houghton
Norwich City: Killip, Efete, Fox (Ramsey), Awuah, Toffolo, Grant, Jacob Murphy, McGeehan (c), King (Kelly), Hall-Johnson (Couzens), Becchio
Subs not Used: Beauchamp