This Monday sees Chelsea’s final home Reserve fixture of 2007, a year of progress and an ever-increasing focus on youth development. The visitors to Griffin Park are Birmingham City, who are likely to be more experienced than their hosts. But then what’s new?
The fixture will be only Chelsea’s second in November, following a close 1-0 loss at Reading at the start of the month. Indeed, Brendan Rodgers’ men have not had a home fixture since the visit of Arsenal on October 8th, when The Gunners left with the same 1-0 scoreline and the three points. Results have been hard on the Reserves – they’re on a five-game winless run, losing the last four, and not scoring in the last three.
Much of the lack of form could be put down to the ever-increasing number of senior and talented reserve players plying their trade in the Football League on loan right now. Consider a Reserve team featuring Jack Cork, Ryan Bertrand, Jimmy Smith, Michael Mancienne, Ben Sahar, and Scott Sinclair. Fortunes would almost certainly be more positive, but the questionable nature of Reserve football would have a negative effect on the progress the players make. So the decision was made to go down this path, and Chelsea won’t be using it as an excuse. They’ll be looking to prove themselves, and perhaps earn a loan move of their own.
With the senior team heading to Norway, it’s likely that Rodgers will join up with Avram Grant’s coaching staff, leaving Under-18 coach Paul Clement in charge once again. He will have a healthy, but very young, squad of players available to him that almost picks itself. Rhys Taylor will continue in goal, with a likely back four of captain Sam Hutchinson, Carl Magnay, Harry Worley, and Patrick van Aanholt. Liam Bridcutt should anchor the midfield, allowing Michael Woods and Sergio Tejera or Lee Sawyer to get forward in support of the predicted front three of Miroslav Stoch, Fabio Ferreira, and Shaun Cummings. Predicting such a side is a very inexact science but, with the aforementioned players loaned out, these are the senior players in the squad, to be complemented by the likes of Gael Kakuta and Jacob Mellis from the Youth Team.
Birmingham are in goalscoring form, notching 12 goals in their last three outings, including 5 against a Fulham team that beat Chelsea. Manager Keith Bertschin has been able to call on the likes of Colin Doyle, Radhi Jaidi, Franck Queudrue, Gary McSheffrey, and Mikael Forssell in recent games, giving his team a core of Premiership experience, which is balanced by impressive teenagers Krystian Pearce, Mitchell McPike, and 15 year-old Jordan Mutch, who was to be used in their Carling Cup fixture before he was denied the opportunity by paperwork.
Facing a team full of players with Premiership experience is nothing new to Chelsea’s Reserve team. Indeed, only Arsenal this season have played anywhere near a similar type team to The Blues. The experience of playing against men, not boys, is a beneficial one and whilst it isn’t the Football League, it’s still a useful learning curve. The likes of Bridcutt and Hutchinson are being tipped for loans in the New Year, as they continue onto their next steps in the game.
Kick off is at 7pm at Brentford’s Griffin Park stadium. Admission is just £5 for adults and £3 for juniors / senior citizens (cash at the turnstiles) and is free for Chelsea Season Ticket holders on production of their card. Why not go along and support the Blues? In terms of getting to Griffin Park, the nearest train station is Brentford, which can be reached by a regular service from Waterloo and Clapham Junction. By tube, Gunnersbury is about one mile from the ground on the District Line.