Chelsea’s Under-21s missed out on a chance to return to the top of the table on Monday night as they suffered a 2 -0 defeat to Liverpool at Chester’s Swansway Stadium.
A dubiously-awarded early penalty afforded Harry Wilson the chance to give Liverpool an early lead, one which the young forward gladly took, and as Chelsea toiled to reach their usual high standards, they instead conceded early again in the second half as Jerome Sinclair scored a fine solo goal to secure all three points for the hosts.
With three academy fixtures in the space of five days, including Thursday’s FA Youth Cup Semi Final First Leg away to Tottenham Hotspur, coach Adi Viveash had a few notable selection decisions to make ahead of the trip north. He included many of those who are likely to feature at White Hart but was able to hand a rare start in goal to Jamal Blackman, whilst utilising the experience of Fankaty Dabo and Andreas Christensen in defence. Ola Aina slotted in at left-back whilst an injury to Jake Clarke-Salter during the warm-up meant Fikayo Tomori deputised, making his first Under-21 start.
Charlie Colkett and captain Jordan Houghton occupied the central midfield berths with an attacking trio of Charly Musonda, Kasey Palmer and Izzy Brown lined up just behind the prolific Dominic Solanke in attack. On the other side, former Chelsea academy coach Michael Beale picked a seasoned line-up including three with football league experience in Lloyd Jones, Kevin Stewart and Connor Randall, whilst full Wales international Wilson joined Sinclair in attack.
The action got off to a hectic start with chances for both sides within the opening five minutes. Brown was first, latching onto Musonda’s flighted cross only volley over, whilst Liverpool’s response was through the lively Spaniard Sergi Canos, who collected Cameron Brannagan’s through ball before bobbling a shot wide of Blackman’s post.
It was the hosts who went ahead with ten minutes of the clock, albeit in rather controversial circumstances. Tomori’s slip allowed Sinclair to rob him of possession and head towards goal, and as the two tussled for position they both fell to the ground on the edge of the area. Despite doubts about both the location of the offence and the exact nature of it, the referee pointed to the spot and Wilson stepped up to convert from twelve yards to make it 1-0.
The opening goal was enough to give Beale’s men a confidence boost and put them on the front foot for a good spell thereafter. Canos escaped the attentions of Aina before the Chelsea man powered back into position and force a pass to Alex O’Hanlon, who shot over, and then Wilson latched onto a long free kick by Dan Cleary but his finish lacked conviction.
Blackman was forced into his only notable save of the opening forty-five minutes just over midway through the half when he scrambled out bravely to smother Canos’ effort, with Christensen on hand to head clear and deny Sinclair any glimpse of a rebound, and it was an important save to make as it gave way to Chelsea’s best spell of the match up to that point. Musonda tried his luck from range without truly testing goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux and Brown followed that up with a jinking run ultimately closed down by the calm and collected Jones.
A half-time tactical adjustment by Chelsea saw full-backs Aina and Dabo swap sides, with Dabo now matched against Canos, and the Blues did start the second half well as Brown’s dummy gave him a yard on Cleary before his shot was blocked away for a corner, but on 52 minutes the hosts went two to the good with Sinclair involved heavily again. He raced away from Tomori down the left before driving towards the six yard box and from a tight angle ripped a shot past Blackman and into the top corner.
Desperately seeking an attacking spark, Viveash was quick to introduce 29-goal Tammy Abraham from the bench and Chelsea immediately set about rescuing a disappointing situation. A well-worked set piece routine saw Brown and Christensen combine to fashion a headed opportunity for Houghton that went begging, and Abraham quickly followed that with the chance of the night when collecting Musonda’s ball before squirting a shot centimetres wide of the post.
Dabo’s perfectly-timed intervention then prevented Sinclair from putting the game to bed completely, and the arrival of Alex Kiwomya in place of Tomori signalled a last roll of the dice by Viveash as the Blues shifted to three at the back with Houghton just in front and everybody else committed to attacking. Another good chance was carved out by Musonda as he picked out Solanke in the box, but the prolific teenager’s header was well off target and rather summed up Chelsea’s evening.
Liverpool: Vigouroux, Randall, Maguire, Cleary, Jones, Stewart, Canos (Trickett-Smith 88), O’Hanlon (Lussey 68), Sinclair, Brannagan, Wilson (Smith 82)
Subs not Used: Fulton, Chirivella
Goals: Wilson (pen), Sinclair
Chelsea: Blackman, Dabo, Christensen, Tomori (Kiwomya 72), Aina, Colkett, Brown, Houghton (c), Solanke, Palmer (Abraham 58), Musonda
Subs not Used: Mitchell, Granger