A much-changed Chelsea Development Squad were beaten 2-0 against Liverpool at Prenton Park on Monday evening in Premier League 2 action.
With more than half of their squad on FA Youth Cup duty instead this week, the Blues fielded a rather unfamiliar line-up away to the league’s third-placed team and, truthfully, never looked like winning. They performed admirably though, eventually going down to a penalty and a free kick from Harry Wilson and Trent Alexander-Arnold respectively, and gave plenty of reason for positivity in their approach overall.
On the eve of the first leg of their Youth Cup Semi Final against Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea were without the likes of Trevoh Chalobah, Mason Mount, Iké Ugbo, Jacob Maddox and Dujon Sterling – the core of their Development Squad so far this campaign – and instead fielded one of their youngest and most inexperienced starting elevens in recent memory.
There were first-ever appearances at this level for Under-16 defender Jonathan Panzo and midfielder Conor Gallagher, who signed his first professional contract last week, and there were first starts for Martell Taylor-Crossdale and Cole Dasilva. Richard Nartey started just his third match of the season for Adi Viveash’s group alongside Joseph Colley in defence, whilst Brad Collins, Kyle Scott and Josimar Quintero would be leaned upon to prove the required leadership and composure.
For the third match in succession too, the Blues were up against an opponent with a fair share of first-team representation. Several of Liverpool’s starters can call upon FA Cup minutes from the 2016-17 season, whilst a centre-back partnership of Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren costing well in excess of £25m looked as formidable as any duo Chelsea have faced all season long.
The same was said about the Southampton side they held to a goalless draw last week though, and, building on that credible display, they began in bright fashion at Tranmere. Gallagher looked to have found a pocket of space on the right just inside the area but was unable to capitalise upon it, but it would prove to be a rare foray forward in a testing half for the visitors.
Liverpool had stuck five past Reading last time out and were hungry for more, with captain Wilson and Sheyi Ojo out wide the chief protagonists. Ojo almost beat Collins with a mis-hit cross from the left whilst Wilson played a nice one-two with Matty Virtue before smashing just wide as they began to turn up the pressure. Chelsea responded with a decent chance for Quintero created by Gallagher but shut down by Gomez, and from there the Reds began to go through the gears.
Ojo saw a shot well-blocked by Nartey before whipping over a teasing cross that cried out for a team-mate to connect, yet nobody obliged, but the next attack yielded success. Alexander-Arnold, a constant threat getting forward from right-back, came inside and went over Ruben Sammut’s dangling leg just inside the area for a penalty; Wilson smashing the resulting spot kick low and hard beyond Collins into the bottom corner.
To their credit, Chelsea resisted the best efforts of the hosts up until half time despite facing considerable and constant pressure, with full-backs Dasilva and Panzo holding up well whilst being supported by a hard-working midfield, but they struggled to get out when in possession. A smart interception by Colley looked to have provided the springboard for a quick break, but Quintero and Taylor-Crossdale couldn’t quite get on the same page and the moment went begging. Quintero himself then had to intervene to prevent Alexander-Arnold from connecting with another fine Ojo cross to ensure it remained 1-0 at the interval.
Scott came back out intent on dragging his team back into the contest, getting on the ball a lot more in midfield and looking to make an impact in the final third. He almost succeeded too, beating three red shirts on his way into the penalty area only to scuff his eventual shot. Liverpool, comfortable enough with their slender lead, threatened through Alexander-Arnold once again as well as former Chelsea youngster Rhian Brewster, but struggled to match the intensity of their first-half football.
Brewster thumped a header wide from Ojo’s latest delivery from the left, and there were a handful of almost-moments for them, but there wasn’t a great deal for Collins to do until he was beaten for the second time with fifteen minutes remaining. Again it came from a dead-ball situation, this time Alexander-Arnold’s right-footed free kick getting up and down and into the bottom corner before the skipper could get down.
And with that went any faint hopes Chelsea had of taking a point back to Cobham with them. Nartey’s terrific clearance from under his own crossbar prevented Brewster from adding to the scoreline after Alexander-Arnold and Marko Grujic had carved them open once again, and Wilson rattled the crossbar from close range, but a third would have been harsh on the visitors, who gave up plenty in strength, size, age and experience but worked hard to contain their more illustrious hosts.
Viveash’s squad have just three matches left in their Premier League 2 campaign this season, with home dates against Sunderland and Everton to come before finishing off away to Derby County. Before any of those, however, our attentions turn squarely to the FA Youth Cup, where Jody Morris’ Under-18s take on Tottenham Hotspur for a place in the Final. The first leg of their Semi Final clash is on Tuesday night at White Hart Lane before the return leg at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, where tickets remain on sale priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Liverpool: Kelleher, Alexander-Arnold, Randall (Whelan 90), Gomez, Lovren (Phillips 74), Stewart, Wilson (c), Virtue (J.Williams 80), Brewster, Grujic, Ojo
Subs not Used: B.Williams, T.Gomes
Goals: Wilson ’22 (pen), Alexander-Arnold ‘73
Booked: Alexander-Arnold, Randall
Chelsea: Collins (c), C.Dasilva, Nartey, Colley, Panzo, Sammut, Gallagher (Jameson 90), Scott, Taylor-Crossdale, Christie-Davies, Quintero (C.Brown 74)
Subs not Used: Thompson