Chelsea opened their Barclays Under-21 Premier League campaign with a 1-0 win away to Liverpool courtesy of a stoppage-time winner from Tammy Abraham.
In a tight contest played with a high level of tactical and technical proficiency throughout both sides were made to work hard for clear-cut chances but it was the younger Blues team that were able to clinch victory with a goal that owed much to a sensational piece of solo play from Charly Musonda.
With more than half of his leading appearance-makers from last season unavailable for one reason or another, Adi Viveash’s first team selection of the season took on a less familiar look than usual, yet it featured plenty of Under-21 experience. Mitchell Beeney started in goal behind a back four of captain Fankaty Dabo, Fikayo Tomori, Jake Clarke-Salter and Jay Dasilva, with Musonda alongside Kyle Scott in midfield; the latter making just his second league start at this level.
Kasey Palmer slotted into the attacking number ten role just behind the prolific Abraham in attack, with Reece Mitchell left and Alex Kiwomya right of him in a versatile and pacy front line. Liverpool, meanwhile, were without Jordan Rossiter as he joined the club’s first-team squad at Stoke but did include Jerome Sinclair, Harry Wilson and Cameron Brannagan who have each experienced fleeting tastes of involvement with Brendan Rodgers’ senior side.
It was skipper Brannagan who caught the eye bright and early at St Helens’ Langtree Park, escaping into Chelsea territory inside five minutes and unleashing a devastating shot that had Beeney beaten but came crashing back off the crossbar. Sinclair should perhaps have done better with the rebound, lashing over when well-placed.
The hosts were much the quicker out of the blocks and Beeney was then called upon to beat away a testing effort from Sergi Canos, with Tomori on hand to scramble clear to deny Sinclair another follow-up attempt. However, Chelsea acted swiftly to end the Liverpool momentum and soon settled into a spell of good possession and control of the contest. Palmer had their first effort at goal, a deflected dig from distance gathered by Ryan Fulton in goal, and Kiwomya then headed wide after good work down the left by Mitchell.
Palmer, as alert and ambitious as ever, sought to then catch the Reds’ stopper out with a 45-yard effort landing safely behind the goal, and the chances continued to come their way. Musonda’s dazzling run from back to front saw him release Palmer clear on goal but referee Peter Wright was too eager with his whistle, calling play back to book Canos rather than let the play continue to develop.
The half to’d and fro’d and Liverpool finished it in the ascendancy with a good ten-minute period of their own. Alex O’Hanlon sliced wide from twenty yards out and Wilson showed an explosion of speed and skill to skip away from Jake Clarke-Salter inside the box only to lose his balance at the decisive moment, ensuring the scoreline remained 0-0 as the two teams retired to the dressing rooms at half time.
Palmer and Canos exchanged wayward efforts to resume proceedings before the latter then delivered a sumptuous cross from the right that caused Tomori all sorts of problems. He headed towards his own goal but was rescued by a most outstanding save by Beeney to parry the ball away for a corner.
The pair continued to exchange off-target tries up until the hour mark, at which point Viveash was the first of the two coaches to dip into his options from the bench. Kevin Wright replaced Scott with Dasilva moving into midfield alongside Musonda, and it gave the Blues an immediate boost with Palmer drawing a foul and a booking from Daniel Cleary and Musonda working Fulton with a low shot from twenty yards out.
With the clock ticking past the seventy-minute mark Sinclair wasted the clearest opportunity of the game up until that point. Stronger and more determined than Tomori, he was able to hold off the advances of the young Chelsea defender and fashion a clear shot at goal from no more than eight yards out but wastefully screwed it wide of the far post. A second good moment came his way shortly after as he latched onto a good ball over the top but the visitors were able to get numbers back and see the threat out.
Palmer and Musonda continued to probe without finding a way through and both sides made late attacking changes in a bid to tip the balance in their favour; Samed Yesil replacing Sinclair and Palmer making way for Miro Muheim’s Under-21 debut. In stoppage time, Connor Randall had a chance for Liverpool to take all three points but fired wide and left the door open for Chelsea, and they took full advantage. Musonda transitioned from midfield to attack and released Abraham with a neat pass, and he did what he does best with a composed finish to clinch victory for his team.
Liverpool: Fulton, Randall, Maguire, Cleary, Brewitt, Chirivella (Kent 68), Canos (Dunn 73), Brannagan (c), Sinclair (Yesil 83), O’Hanlon, Wilson
Subs not Used: Firth, Madger
Booked: Canos, Cleary, Chirivella, Randall
Chelsea: Beeney, Dabo (c), Tomori, Clarke-Salter, Dasilva, Scott (Wright 63), Kiwomya (Conroy 87), Musonda, Abraham, Palmer (Muheim 83), Mitchell
Subs not Used: Quintero, Baxter
Goal: Abraham ‘90+2