Chelsea’s Under-21s put themselves into a strong position in their Premier League International Cup group by hammering Norwich City 5-0 in their final match of 2014.
Following a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Borussia Mönchengladbach at Staines Town’s Wheatsheaf Park on Friday night the attention shifted to AFC Wimbledon’s Cherry Red Records Stadium (or Kingsmeadow if you’re Kingstonian-inclined) as goals from Alex Kiwomya, Jeremie Boga, Dominic Solanke twice and a gift of an own goal by Adel Gafaiti ensured the Blues will head into their last group match against FC Porto in a commanding position.
Manager Adi Viveash made seven changes from the team that started Friday’s draw as the Chelsea boss showed a keenness to offer playing time to as many of his squad as possible. Just Mitchell Beeney, Fankaty Dabo, Jordan Houghton and John Swift were retained as Jake Clarke-Salter was drafted into the back four along with Jay Dasilva whilst Charlie Colkett and Boga joined Swift in midfield; Houghton dropping back into defence as a result of the reshuffle.
Kiwomya returned from a recent injury to take up his familiar spot on the right of the front three, with Kasey Palmer on the left and Solanke in the middle. The experienced Dion Conroy, Andreas Christensen, Nathan Aké, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Izzy Brown and Lewis Baker were all rested and Reece Mitchell afforded a place on the bench along with impressive first-year scholars Fikayo Tomori and Ruben Sammut.
The two teams have played each other relatively often over the past two or three years, most notable in the 2012-13 FA Youth Cup Final, and that familiarity bred a competitive element from the very start as old adversaries renewed acquaintances. An early Norwich free kick allowed Josh Murphy to test Beeney’s handling before Swift and former Chelsea schoolboy Cameron McGeehan engaged in a skirmish that saw both men booked by Anthony Coggins.
Coggins had a busy first forty-five minutes, also handing out cautions to Jamar Loza, Kyle Fadden and Clarke-Salter as the contest became increasingly more physical, but it rarely threatened to spill over into anything unnecessary. Both teams played with hunger and intensity despite the close proximity to a much-needed Christmas break and began working promising moments in front of goal.
Palmer’s radar wasn’t quite on point with a long-range effort for the hosts whilst high pressing from the Canaries almost resulted in Beeney squandering possession before he and Colkett managed to deal with the situation. McGeehan had a promising free kick hit the wall and a follow-up header fall teasingly close to an offside Ray Grant and it was all the more frustrating as Chelsea took the lead after half an hour.
Dasilva approached the area on the left looking to find a yard of space in which to deliver a cross. He wriggled free of Cameron Norman’s considerable attentions and smashed the ball towards the far post, where Kiwomya arrived on cue to rifle an unstoppable volley past a helpless Declan Rudd to make it 1-0 to the home team.
Palmer continued to be a threat and drove wide of the target before then luring McFadden into a foul for a free kick that Swift couldn’t quite take advantage of. Swift had a chance from the ensuing corner but Norwich managed to clear. Murphy’s effort to beat Beeney from the halfway line, however, was rather ill-advised and landed several rows back behind the goal.
McGeehan had a fair shout for a penalty fall on the deaf ears of Mr Coggins as Dabo hassled him from behind but Chelsea finished strong and might have been further ahead had Kiwomya found Solanke with a cross or the top corner with a long-range shot. Both missed their marks and so the Blues went into the break just a goal to the good.
Palmer began the second half with a silky-smooth 50-yard run down the left before fluffing his lines in front of goal but it wasn’t to matter as the lead was doubled a minute later. Kiwomya’s cross from the right was harmless and about to be gathered by Rudd only for Gafaiti to intervene and turn the ball into his own net under no pressure whatsoever.
A third could then have arrived when Palmer had a clear sight of goal blocked by a brave Norwich challenge from eight yards out and when City could muster an attack, Beeney proved himself more than equal to whatever Murphy could throw at him.
Midway through the second period Boga took off on a typically mazy run before being rudely up-ended by Reece Hall-Johnson and then having the ball smashed at him by McFadden whilst prone on the ground. The Frenchman reacted angrily and was booked for his aggression but would have the last laugh as he crashed the resulting free kick into the top corner to make it 3-0 and secure all three points for his team.
From there it was just a case of how many Chelsea wanted to score as Norwich wilted and looked wistfully towards the full time whistle. A fourth came with fifteen minutes left as Houghton released Kiwomya down the right and the scorer of the first claimed a deserved assist by sending the ball over to Solanke, who gathered it in before spinning and drilling home his 14th goal of the season.
Viveash saw that as a cue to rest the legs of Kiwomya, Palmer and Dabo and give Tomori, Sammut and Mitchell a run-out and although the latter of the trio quickly received the game’s eighth booking (and Ray Grant would make it nine in the 81st minute), the hosts didn’t skip a beat in their attacking intent. Dasilva dazzled on another foray forward before handing over to Swift, who tried to keep the move going before running out of room and finding his path to goal blocked.
Murphy continued his one-man attempt to give Norwich a consolation to take home with them but was limited to long-range tries by a stern Chelsea rearguard led impeccably by Houghton and ably assisted by the 17 year-old Clarke-Salter alongside him. It was, though, only right that Chelsea had the last word and they made it a rout with a minute left on the clock as Solanke read the bounce of the ball better than substitute Michee Efete and guided the ball past Rudd to make it 5-0.
Chelsea: Beeney, Dabo (Tomori 75), Houghton (c), Clarke-Salter, Dasilva, Colkett, Swift, Boga, Kiwomya (Mitchell 75), Palmer (Sammut 75), Solanke
Subs not Used: Granger
Goals: Kiwomya, Gafaiti og, Boga, Solanke (2)
Booked: Swift, Clarke-Salter, Boga, Mitchell
Norwich City: Rudd, Hall-Johnson, Kelly, McGeehan, McFadden (c) (Ramsey 77), Gafaiti, Norman (Efete 62), McGrandles, Loza, Grant, Murphy
Subs not Used: Oxborough, Cantwell, Byrne-Hewitt, Black
Booked: McGeehan, Loza, McFadden, Hall-Johnson, Grant