For many teams, the Under 18 season is coming to a close and with little to play for, new faces for next season are being tried. That doesn’t quite apply to Chelsea, with the next seven days being the biggest thus far in the football careers of the players involved. On Wednesday the boys take to the field against Manchester City at Eastlands in the second leg of the FA Youth Cup Final having been held to a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge in the first leg. This means that this Saturday’s game against Cardiff will be a chance for the younger Under 18 players to shine.
It’s been a busy week for the academy. Off the back of a Thursday Youth Cup tie, a trip to Reading followed on the Saturday, with eleven changes and a 2-1 defeat. Then they were back in action 72 hours later with Ipswich visiting Cobham, and a remarkable 6-4 victory. With another 11 changes bringing the FA Youth Cup team back into playing action, Miroslav Stoch bagged four first half goals for his finest Chelsea performance to date, and after Ipswich got level again in the second half, Frank Nouble and Sergio Tejera sealed a sensational win.
So with the visit of Cardiff coming both half a week after the Ipswich game and before the FA Youth Cup tie, Paul Clement will likely be calling upon the faces who lost at Reading, the likes of Daniel Philliskirk, Jack Saville and Fabio Borini. It’s a crucial time of the season for these players, coming towards the end of their first year of scholarship and looking to make an impression going into the summer, where some of them will be hoping to make a gradual transition to the Reserves after dipping their toes in the water in 2008.
Indeed, Borini, Saville and Philliskirk have all found the net for the Reserves in recent weeks, and impressed when used. In addition, Tom Taiwo, Jordan Tabor, and Jordan Hibbert have been on the fringes of Brendan Rodgers’ squad and could do with a strong finish. The Under 18s are likely to feature close to ten new scholars over the summer and with competition for places being undoubtedly stronger than at Reserve level, those who prove themselves will get the chance to step up.
Cardiff’s academy has been receiving some due credit over the last week, as a product of their very own in Joe Ledley scored the only goal to put them into the FA Cup Final. Unfortunately for the Bluebirds, this season has been one to completely forget, as they sit rock bottom of Group B with just 3 wins and 14 points from 26 games, shipping 65 goals.
Neal Ardley’s men (the former Wimbledon midfielder) have only one win in 2008 and suffered heavy defeats at Tottenham (5-0) and Arsenal (6-0), although they did beat Portsmouth, the only team to stop Chelsea scoring this season, doing so twice. Rhys Kelleher and Jack Carlile have found the net with at least some regularity and will need to be firing if they are to stand any chance of avoiding another heavy defeat against a confident Chelsea team.
This fixture last season finished 2-1 to Chelsea very early in the campaign, Jonas Elmer’s goal being cancelled out before Ben Sahar struck a late winner. Lee Sawyer was sent off for a fistfight with Ashley Buswell. The match takes place at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground with an 11am kick-off. Entry is free and encouraged. The nearest public transport is Cobham and Stoke D’Abernon Station, where you will then be able to ask a Chelsea security guard for directions from Platform 2. A full match report will follow on CFCnet.