As 2015 draws to a close it’s appropriate to look back at what has been, even by their own lofty standards, an exceptional year for the academy at Chelsea Football Club. They retained the FA Youth Cup – a fourth such success in six years – won the UEFA Youth League and added several more first-team debuts to their recent production line. Here’s a quick month-by-month rundown with some great moments to look back on.
2015 kicked off with an unfortunate FA Cup defeat at home to Bradford in which Andreas Christensen made his first Stamford Bridge appearance – and start – for the first team. The Under-18s took centre stage as far as the month’s highlights were concerned though, dismissing Huddersfield Town and Swansea City in FA Youth Cup victories with half a dozen goals racked up in each contest. Kasey Palmer scored in both whilst also finding time to produce this blockbuster in an Under-21 International Cup outing against FC Porto
The month began with the Under-21s rampaging to a 5-0 lead at home to Southampton in little more than half an hour, eventually triumphing 5-3. Their form would tail off thereafter though, losing three straight in a sparse schedule including March’s fixtures. The FA Youth Cup run continued courtesy of a hard-fought 3-0 win at Newcastle whilst the Under-18s were also in solid league form, and the UEFA Youth League returned with a 3-1 win over Zenit St Petersburg to seal a last eight berth.
The first team’s push towards the title left little room for youngsters to play but their own schedule was pretty hectic too, and mainly against Tottenham. The Under-18s faced them in four straight games between February 28th and March 18th – with an Under-21 match against them thrown in for good measure – and the Blues took the biggest spoils, overturning a 2-0 first leg deficit in the FA Youth Cup Semi Finals to win 5-2 at home and make it to a fourth final in as many years. Having trailed 3-0 on aggregate at one stage, it was one of the most dramatic nights in recent academy history, and capped a very good month that also included Adi Viveash’s Under-19s qualifying for the UEFA Youth League Semi Final in Nyon.
Three Mondays, three Finals, three wins and two trophies. A swift dismissal of Roma in the UEFA Youth League Semi Finals set up the first of those happy Mondays; a date with Shakhtar Donetsk in which two goals from Izzy Brown and another from Dominic Solanke crowned Chelsea as Under-19 Champions of Europe. Solanke’s goal ensured he finished as the competition’s leading goalscorer and the only played in the competition’s (admittedly brief history) to net in every single round.
A week later, Joe Edwards led a team comprised of many of the same players up to Manchester for the first leg of the FA Youth Cup Final. Solanke, of course, scored again – meaning he’d found the net in every round of THAT competition too – with Tammy Abraham grabbing two more to establish a stranglehold Chelsea would never relinquish. He added another at the Bridge seven days on, as did Brown, to ensure the trophy remained in West London for a second straight year.
The abundant success was duly matched by the first team, who themselves became Premier League champions. That opened up chances for players to be rewarded with end-of-season minutes in dead rubber contests and in addition to Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s maiden Premier League start, there was a senior debut for Brown (away to his former club West Brom) and a Premier League debut for Christensen, who had already featured in both domestic cups.
At Under-21 level both Solanke and Abraham picked up the scoring pace as the campaign drew to a close, each ending on a remarkable 41 goals for the 2014-15 season, and Patrick Bamford was named the Championship Player of the Season for his nineteen goals en route to the Playoff Final, which Middlesbrough lost to Norwich.
Typically a quiet month in the football world, Chelsea’s end-of-season tour to Thailand and Australia slipped into June and allowed for several Under-21s to play alongside the selected first-teamers on the plane. Chelsea won both of their tour matches by a goal to nil.
Just like that, football returned in earnest with a busy pre-season schedule at all levels. A clutch of younger players joined Jose Mourinho’s group in the United States without playing a great deal whilst Adi Viveash and Joe Edwards took their teams to Austria for their traditional training camp in Obertraun. There was also a trip to Bergerac in France to help them celebrate their centenary in an entertaining 4-4 friendly draw.
There was a winning start for the Under-21s with Charly Musonda taking centre stage away to Liverpool on the opening weekend, laying on a stoppage-time winner for the ever-prolific Abraham. The Under-18s racked up consecutive wins to open their own new season whilst the UEFA Champions League draw meant the Under-19s would face FC Porto, Dynamo Kyiv and Maccabi Tel-Aviv in their defence of the UEFA Youth League.
That title defence got underway with a routine 3-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv at a soaking wet Cobham; Kasey Palmer scoring twice in a red-hot run of goalscoring form. The Under-21s had just one match – a 3-3 draw against Reading at Stamford Bridge – but the Under-18s were well into their stride with three more wins. At first team level, Bertrand Traore was the latest debutant, coming on as a substitute in the first team’s victory over Maccabi.
The Under-21s lost back-to-back home matches and Loftus-Cheek’s supposed ‘run of games’ in the first team amounted to just 45 minutes against Aston Villa, leaving the month’s successes to Edwards and co. at Under-18 level. Twenty goals in five games included a 7-0 hammering of Norwich and sent them clear at the top of the table once again.
In front of the soon-to-depart Mourinho, the Under-21s beat Liverpool for the third time this season with a little help from Loftus-Cheek. The Under-18s continued to rack up the goals – 16 in 3 games – whilst England took on Switzerland at Under-21 level with six Chelsea players in the squad and five starting. Ola Aina was on the bench as Solanke, Loftus-Cheek, Nathaniel Chalobah, John Swift and Lewis Baker all lined up for Gareth Southgate on a memorable night for the academy.
The FA Youth Cup got underway with a another six-goal haul against Huddersfield, whilst safe passage into the knockout round of the UEFA Youth League was taken care of with one of just three unbeaten group records. The Under-21s rounded off the year with an accomplished 1-0 win over Middlesbrough at Cobham.