Clinton Mola and Tariq Lamptey are gone. Charlie Brown, George McEachran and Marc Guehi have departed on loan. Levi Colwill may be done for the season injured. Faustino Anjorin, Billy Gilmour and Armando Broja are with the first team and Marcel Lavinier is trialling elsewhere.
Chelsea’s Development Squad continues to be decimated by most fair standards but, as they beat Everton 1-0 courtesy of a late Luke McCormick penalty, they demonstrated the mentality that has put them within touching distance of a first league title at this level in six years.
Yes, they were boosted by ninety minutes from the returning Ruben Loftus-Cheek on this occasion, but the three points were about far more than that. With half the team still eligible to play on Saturday mornings in the Under-18 Premier League, this Chelsea team dominated from start to finish against an experienced Everton team – a club that has won the league twice in the last three years at this level – set up to defend in numbers in hope of a 0-0 draw.
Loftus-Cheek displayed some nice touches, including some hallmark driving bursts from midfield neatly weaved together with balletic footwork belying his stature, but he’ll be the first to admit that he remains some way off being ready to contribute effectively for Frank Lampard’s first team, and will be aiming to build on this outing with further appearances for Andy Myers’ team in the weeks to come.
He was involved in the game’s decisive moment, though, when he was fouled in the penalty area by Everton skipper Beni Baningime with seven minutes to go. Nipping in just ahead of his midfield adversary, he went to ground after a clumsy push from behind, enough for referee Lloyd Wood to point to the spot. McCormick accepted the responsibility and thundered the spot kick into the roof of the net to make sure the Blues remained three points clear of Leicester, who won 3-1 against Southampton, at the PL2 summit.
They might have had the points in the bag earlier, but huffed and puffed for long stretches against a defence that gave up very little, and forced the home team into a lot of passing around the periphery of the penalty area without penetrating. Ian Maatsen, captain for the night, wasted the best of the first half opportunities when screwing a shot wide from the edge of the area, while Tariq Uwakwe’s efforts to up the ante early in the second half drew more interest from Harry Tyrer in the Everton goal without truly worrying him.
Jon Russell had a scrambled effort cleared off the line before Dynel Simeu worked Tyrer noticeably harder, and the pressure kept on coming. Bryan Fiabema was given a Dev Squad debut off the bench but it was another substitute in Tino Livramento who made more of a difference. Combining well with Henry Lawrence on the right, he maintained a width that Chelsea were sorely lacking before his arrival, and pushed Everton further and further back towards goal.
Loftus-Cheek thumped a header wide minutes before playing his part in the winner, while there was a late scare when he given a sharp blow on the shin by Matty Foulds, who was perhaps fortunate to only see yellow. Simeu’s late headed clearance stopped Ellis Simms from stealing a point for the Merseysiders, who will head home feeling they’re about to relinquish their crown to the team that just beat them.
There’s a lot of football to be played before then, though. Chelsea travel to Blackburn a fortnight from now before welcoming Wolves to Stamford Bridge. They then head to third-placed Brighton before finishing at Kingsmeadow against Southampton; the two home games coming against teams currently in the relegation zone. Leicester have a much harder run-in by comparison as they face Manchester City, Derby County, Arsenal and Liverpool, but to attempt to predict anything at this point would be foolish. Instead, strap yourself in, and get ready for a wild ride.
Four games left. pic.twitter.com/07YnNw9xt8
— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) March 2, 2020
Chelsea: Cumming, Lawrence, Simeu, Wakely, Maatsen ©, Bate, McCormick, Russell (Livramento 73), Ballo (Fiabema 62), Loftus-Cheek, Uwakwe
Subs not Used: McClelland, Tié, Simons
Goal: McCormick ’83 (pen)
Everton: Tyrer, Astley (Onyango 86), Foulds, Markelo, Ouzounidis, Branthwaite, John, Baningime ©, Simms, Iversen (Mampala 84), Adeniran
Subs not Used: Denny, Hansen, Anderson
Booked: Markelo, Foulds