Yesterday we opened the Academy season preview by looking at Chelsea’s Group A opponents. In Part Two today, we take a look at the other ten teams from around the country that the Blues will face in 2009/10.
The games against the ten other teams are split into portions of five, bookending the season. They are also split into five home and five away fixtures.
Last Season: 3rd in Group B
Another of England’s most productive youth setups, Villa are a year removed from being Academy Champions, and want their crown back with a new generation of Under-18s. Striker Courtney Cameron arrives from Northampton with a reputation to live up to, and Gary Gardner, brother of first teamer Craig, is likely to captain the side. Former Man Utd schoolboy duo Tomos Roberts and Jason Lampkin are joined by Samir Carruthers, who departed Arsenal in the summer with an eye on faster development and greater opportunity. Ethan Moore – no relation to former Villa kids Stefan and Luke – is a potentially prolific goalscorer.
Key Player: Gary Gardner
Last Season: 9th in Group B
Birmingham have struggled at this level for a while, both on the field and with pushing talent on towards a first team squad often bloated as they yo-yo between Premier League and Championship football. The talent they have produced has become stagnant at reserve level, which doesn’t allow Under-18s to make the step up. This rings true for towering centre-back Krystian Pearce, who has gone out on loan again, and Jordon Mutch, who has admittedly suffered through injury. England Under-16 goalkeeper Jack Butland is one of the club’s standout prospects, and they’ll look for help from Jake Jervis and Ashley Sammons.
Key Player: Jack Butland
Last Season: 9th in Group C
It’s been a strange few years for Blackburn. After a strong spell in the 1990s where they produced the likes of Damien Duff and David Dunn amongst others, it’s been quieter of late, with Matt Derbyshire being the highlight. Aaron Doran broke into the first team squad last season and a thin senior party could see more follow. The youth team struggled last season but there is every hope for an improved year. Ex-Arsenal troublemaker Jason Banton features in attack alongside the prolific Tom Hitchcock (son of Kevin), whilst defender Alex Billington is an England Under-17 full-back.
Key Man: Tom Hitchcock
Last Season: 6th in Group B
There’s quite the Chelsea connection at the Bristol City academy. Managed by ex-Blue David Lee, they have Lee Stripp, Nathan Livings, Daryn Hennessey and Harry Rubbins amongst their ranks, all former schoolboys at Cobham. 18-goal top scorer from last season Marlon Jackson has begun the push to the first team and will need to be replaced, but Joe Lennox looks capable. They play some of the most exciting football at this level, and if their 5-4 pre-season defeat at Chelsea is anything to go by, will be great value.
Key Player: Joe Lennox
Last Season: 7th in Group B
Cardiff have been doing well for themselves recently, supplementing a Premier League chasing squad with a healthy number of local youngsters, the most successful being their own Joe Ledley and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey. They showed resolve last season to bounce back from a terrible 07/08 season and will be looking to continue their upwards movement. Zak Evans and Aaron Wildig are names to watch out for, as is Jordan Santiago.
Key Man: Zak Evans
Last Season: 4th in Group B
Coventry have started to really impress at academy level of late, with some talented players looking to make a breakthrough. The club has produced some useful players over the last ten years or so, and as long as they can continue to bring through useful footballers, they’ll be in good stead. Forward Ashley Cain started making the jump last season, and whilst they will have to do without him, brothers Jermaine and Joel Grandison could play important roles, as will Curtis Wynter and Conor Grogan.
Key Man: Conor Grogan
Last Season: 2nd in Group B
With 90 goals last season, Leicester were the top scorers in the Academy League, and were mighty impressive along the way, falling just short of the Group B title. Tom Parkes has been a regular in England’s Under-17 squad, but Jorrin John (also an England youth international) is a name which has long been touted by Foxes fans and one which everyone may hear far more of in the future.
Key Man: Jorrin John
Last Season: 2nd in Group D
Ah Newcastle. Toil at the top hasn’t quite made its way to academy level, as after a poor 07/08 season they rebounded to finish second to a very good Sunderland outfit. Much of their good stuff came from the impressive Nile Ranger, who has moved on to bigger and better things, but new scholars Haris Vukcic and Aaron Spear come very highly rated. Goalkeeper Jak Alnwick is the younger brother of Ben and is an England Under-16 international, and with the intriguing Patrick Nzuzi, they have a lot of talent going forward. This was evidenced in their 5-3 win over the Blues in academy pre-season.
Key Man: Aaron Spear
Last Season: 5th in Group D
Three key players in Forest’s first team squad came through the club’s academy, and whilst the likes of James Perch and Lewis McGugan may not just yet be up to the standards of a Jermaine Jenas or a Michael Dawson, they’re still doing the club’s youth ranks proud. With a strong Cypriot influence as a result of a relationship with AEK Larnaca, they also have Jean Biansumba in attack and Kieron Freeman at right-back to keep a look out for. Hayden Durose could start though, the Australian goalkeeper joining and rejecting Liverpool in the process.
Key Player: Hayden Durose
Last Season: 8th in Group B
As is the case with a lot of clubs, financial difficulties mean that Watford are ever being forced towards smaller senior squads and the contributions of youngsters. The Hornets academy are doing well for themselves, entering and performing well in a number of prestigious overseas tournaments, and are already supplementing Malky Mackay’s squad with players such as Ross Jenkins, Dale Bennett, Lewis Young and Marvin Sordell. With these teenagers stepping up, it means more opportunity and responsibility for some of the younger scholars, although second year Matt Whichelow will be amongst the key faces. England Under-17 defender Eddie Oshodi will continue refining his game, and striker Gavin Massey impressed last year as a schoolboy.
Key Man: Matt Whichelow
In tomorrow’s third and final part, on the eve of the season, we look at Chelsea themselves, and the possibilities for the season ahead.