After going to down a solitary goal defeat last Monday in Northwich, Chelsea’s Reserves re-grouped ahead of today’s return clash with Manchester United’s Reserves and led for large spells of the game. However, a poor second half coupled with a strong showing from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s boys led to the Red Devils taking a deserved point by way of a stoppage time penalty.
Brendan Rodgers was able to call upon a stronger squad than he had available last week, naming Hilário, Michael Mancienne, Scott Sinclair and Franco Di Santo in his eleven, as well as welcoming Miroslav Stoch back from international duty. Injury however did deprive him of Michael Woods and Gael Kakuta, whilst Lee Sawyer and Jack Cork have gone out on loan. Man Utd replaced Ben Foster in goal with Ben Amos, and had the Da Silva twins – Fábio and Rafael – at full-back whilst welcoming teenage striker Daniel Welbeck back from injury.
The match, played on the main Academy pitch, nearly started in the same fashion as much of the Under 16 action on the same surface over the weekend. Inside a minute Chelsea had worked their way inside the left channel and behind the United defence. Sergio Tejera swivelled and shot, beating Amos, but not the far post. The ball bounced favourably for Richard Eckersley, who hacked it to safety. It was to signal a half of Chelsea dominance, especially in the attacking third.
All of the early action was one way, leaving Hilário with little or nothing to do in a rare reserve outing. Stoch sent a free kick on target but was easily saved by Amos, then Magnay arrived spectacularly at the far post to meet Stoch’s cross with a header which the young United stopper saved well. Just before the quarter-hour mark the visitors lost Welbeck to a facial injury, replacing him with the Italian striker, Federico Macheda.
The enforced change didn’t help United at all. Macheda was starved of service by a defensive and very deep five-man midfield, around which Chelsea moved the ball quickly and impressively. Michael Mancienne was the next to have an attempt on goal, thudding a header only feet over. It took until the 22nd minute for Solskjaer’s boys to have their first attempt on goal, a tame left-footed volley from Darron Gibson from outside the box. This was followed by a waywardly high attempt from captain David Gray.
On the half hour mark, Chelsea gained the lead their efforts deserved. A corner was only partially cleared before being knocked back in. The ball was switched back across the penalty area towards Jacob Mellis, and despite vehement offside calls, he slotted the ball into the back of the net with ease.
Five minutes later, Chelsea were forced into an injury substitution of their own. Franco Di Santo, who had been quiet but nonetheless had showed touch and fine link-up play, went over a tackle from Eckersley awkwardly and landed on his shoulder. After trying to run it off, his mobility was impeded sufficiently to be withdrawn in favour of Morten Nielsen.
After Macheda, Cleverley, and Stoch all had their own attempts at goal, the Blues doubled their lead in first half stoppage time in sublime fashion. A sweeping, flowing move through midfield spread the play out to Magnay on the wing. He pulled a superb cross out of the bag (for which he was to be mocked later by members of the Under 18 team) for Sinclair to rise and meet with a soaring header past Amos. The goals the boys had lacked last week were now there, not coincidentally because of the presence of Sinclair, Stoch, and Di Santo.
Rhys Taylor replaced Hilário between the posts for the second half, returning from a week of international duty with Wales. He was to come under far more pressure than his Portuguese counterpart as United stepped up their game and pushed Daniel Drinkwater further forward than he had been playing. Macheda had an effort deflected wide before Gibson sent a 20-yard shot over, neither worrying Taylor.
Both teams went close again either side of the hour mark. Mancienne once more met a corner with powerful authority but was off target, whilst Drinkwater’s overhit cross came back off the far post. Taylor was then forced into his – and Chelsea’s – first save of note, stopping a powerful Macheda volley at his near post very well indeed.
Stoch and Macheda both had half-chances not quite come off before the hosts made two changes which were slightly injury related. Tom Taiwo and Fabio Ferreira replaced Patrick van Aanholt (ankle) and Sergio Tejera (calf), with Magnay switching to left-back. United made their own further change through injury, Rafael hurting his shoulder and was replaced by Cameron Stewart. Magnus Eikrem also came into the game for Sam Hewson.
With fifteen minutes left on the clock, the Reds had the way back into the game they craved. Fábio cut inside from the left side and unleashed a thunderous right-footed missile from 30 yards which Taylor could only palm into the top corner. It was his second fantastic strike of the summer, following a dazzling solo effort against Northwich.
The match became completely one-way, United sensing they could earn a draw or more, and almost instantly Taylor had to be alert to make a smart stop away to his left from a surprisingly open Cleverley. Mellis then went off with a knock, the match somewhat resembling a war zone, with Ricardo Fernandes coming on. Within a minute of the change, Macheda had an opening on his right foot which missed by a metre both high and wide.
Stewart then flashed a 25 yard shot wide which had Taylor scrambling, whilst Stoch did the same at the other end. With the match deep into stoppage time – of which there was plenty – Man Utd had their moment. Fábio came inside again to devastating effect, flicking the ball to the cross-running Eikrem. He fed Drinkwater, who was tripped by Bridcutt just inside the box. Gibson placed the ball on the spot and sent Taylor the wrong way with what was effectively the last touch of the match.
For what were the first two meetings ever between these clubs at Reserve level, Chelsea can take a lot from the games. They were better in the second half of the defeat in Northwich whilst lacking a cutting edge, and then controlled the first hour at Cobham today. With the Reserve season starting on September 1st against Arsenal, the boys look almost ready for the season ahead.
Team: Hilário (Taylor 45), Magnay, Bruma, Mancienne, van Aanholt (Taiwo 72), Bridcutt (c), Mellis (Fernandes 80), Tejera (Ferreira 73), Stoch, Sinclair, Di Santo (Nielsen 35)
Goals: Mellis 30, Sinclair 45