It’s been an impressive start to the season for Brendan Rodgers and the Chelsea Reserve team. Indeed, the Blues are yet to experience a game in which they didn’t come out with a win and currently sit atop of the FA Premier Reserve League South with three straight wins. They share that berth with Monday night’s opponents, Aston Villa.
Last year’s Reserve campaign was rather hit and miss. A six-month spell without a goal was alleviated when Franco Di Santo arrived and boosted their results and performances, but his progression to the first team squad left the team without his inspiration for this year. Early signs indicate they’re not desperately missing him. Winning twice on the road – 3-2 at Arsenal and 2-0 last time out at Portsmouth – and once at home against West Ham has given Rodgers’ youngsters a sense of confidence and a little bit of a swagger that they’ve needed for some time. This confidence exploded last Saturday when they hosted AC Milan’s Primavera team in a friendly at Cobham.
Chelsea sauntered to a 4-0 victory, inspired by the electrifying Miroslav Stoch. The flying Slovakian winger scored the opener from the penalty spot (winning the kick himself) before goals from Fabio Borini, Fabio Ferreira and Morten Nielsen gave them the emphatic scoreline they deserved. Fábio Paim and Stoch also had goals disallowed and Milan’s woodwork was tested in what was probably the best performance from this team in many a year. Aston Villa kindly agreed to reschedule this game a week later to allow Chelsea to play Milan, but may regret the decision looking at the form Chelsea developed against the Rossoneri.
However, a consequence of the rescheduling has placed this match in the middle of an international double-header. It means Rodgers will be deprived of key players in all areas of the pitch. Rhys Taylor is away with the Welsh Under-21s, facing an England squad including Michael Mancienne. Michael Woods is with the England Under-19 squad, replacing the injured Jacob Mellis, and Jeffrey Bruma is with the Dutch team of the same age group – they are also missing the injured Patrick van Aanholt.
It means Blues fans may get a first look at Mineiro, who signed for the rest of the season a fortnight ago but is yet to feature at any level. Luis Felipe Scolari claimed the ex-Hertha BSC midfielder would need some conditioning before making a Premiership appearance and this is an ideal opportunity. Elsewhere, the likes of Carlo Cudicini and Scott Sinclair may well feature again, putting in professional outings at Portsmouth two weeks ago, whilst Fabio Borini is in the form of his life, racking up six goals in a week against Ipswich, Portsmouth, and Milan.
Predicted Team: Cudicini (c), Ofori-Twumasi, Hutchinson, Bridcutt, Magnay, Mineiro, Taiwo, Tejera, Stoch, Sinclair, Borini.
Whatever team Rodgers goes with, Villa offer an incredibly strong opposition. Any team that can go to Arsenal and come away with a stunningly comprehensive 4-1 Reserve win deserves to have others sit up and take notice, as their own youngsters made everyone’s favourite youth team look embarassingly poor. In Nathan Delfouneso they have a superb young striker who scored against the Blues in the FA Youth Cup last season, and he is ably supported from wide players Andreas Weimann, Zoltan Steiber and Marc Albrighton, architechts of Arsenal’s downfall. Add Barry Bannan, Nathan Baker and Elliot Parish in the spine of the team and Kevin McDonald’s boys are undoubtedly Chelsea’s sternest test of the season to date.
Monday’s match promises to be high on quality and entertainment. Kickoff is 7pm at Brentford’s Griffin Park with entry costing £5 for Adults (£3 concessions) and Free for any Chelsea Season Ticket Holder. ChelseaTV will also be showing the match Live from 6.45pm. A full report will follow post-match on CFCnet.