If you’re a fan of goals, Chelsea’s Under 18s have been the team to watch this season. Their eight games this season have yielded 37 goals, an average of around 3.5 per match. It has seen a 7-2 victory over Ipswich, a 4-3 win over Reading, but also a heavy 4-1 defeat at Bristol City, and a 4-3 defeat at home to Southampton last time out. Being bottom of the table isn’t something any Chelsea team has experienced much in recent years, and Paul Clement and his boys will be looking to address this on Saturday against West Ham, who share the basement with the Blues.
Much of the defensive woes comes from a lack of real defensive depth. With Vincenzo Camilleri missing for most of the season to date (his ban this week will not affect his football in England), it has been down to Jack Saville and Billy-Joe King to carry the load at centre-back, with Daniel Philliskirk filling in often in an unusual role for the midfielder. Individual mistakes can be targeted but it’s a little pointless to lay the blame at any one door when good defence comes from a team game. It started in pre-season (3-3 and 4-4 draws with QPR and Wolves) and has carried over to the league – twelve games without a clean sheet is the primary concern the Academy coaching staff will be looking to address.
In the wider picture, the youth team is doing a good job of providing the Reserves with a flow of players. In Monday’s 0-1 loss to Aston Villa, Fabio Borini, Tom Taiwo, Frank Nouble and Jordan Tabor all featured, as more and more players are earning their chance to step up. This in turn has opened the door to the Under 16s to make a step up to Under 18 football as schoolboys, something Josh MacEachran has done for much of this season and has been followed more recently by Billy Knott and Rohan Ince.
After a week of Reserve football and international games at youth level, Clement’s team will be an interesting one, as will any decisions regarding defensive re-shuffling that are made. A predicted team would be
Sebek, Ahmed, Saville, Camilleri, King, Clifford, Philliskirk, MacEachran, Tabor, Nouble, Borini
West Ham’s season hasn’t been much better – they even have one fewer win than Chelsea, but did hold an impressive Crystal Palace team 0-0 last time out at Little Heath. They only have one goal in the last month, a penalty against Arsenal, and are struggling with the loss of Freddie Sears to senior professional football. Sears scored 30+ academy goals last season and former Arsenal schoolboy Ahmed Abdullah hasn’t sufficiently filled that void.
They do have some talented players though, as you might expect from ‘The Academy of Football’. Anthony Edgar is a pacy forward minded player (and Jermain Defoe’s cousin), whilst Oliver Lee (son of Robert) and Conor Okus provide a strong and steely midfield. Tony Carr can also call on Australian forward Daniel Kearns and Hungarian striker Balint Bajner should he wish to mix things up in the chase for a win and a turnaround in fortunes.
This match last season finished in a 4-1 victory to West Ham, with the aforementioned Sears scoring a hat-trick en route to proving he was too good for this level. Saturday’s match kicks off at 11am at West Ham’s Little Heath Training Ground in Romford, Essex, and entry to the match is free. A full report will follow on CFCnet some time on Saturday afternoon.