Attracting much media attention this week is the news that England’s World Cup Qualifier away to the Ukraine on Saturday will only be available to British viewers over the internet, due to the collapse of Setanta. In a similar development, England’s Under-21s will play their home European Championship Qualifier against Macedonia at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena live and exclusive on Chelsea TV this Friday night.
It marks a bit of a move into unchartered waters for Chelsea TV, but it makes sense, at least from a club perspective. Stuart Pearce last week named five Chelsea youngsters in his squad as the team look to go one better in the 2011 Championships, having reached the 2009 Final before being dispatched by Germany. In Michael Mancienne, Daniel Sturridge, Ryan Bertrand, Jack Cork, and Sam Hutchinson, the Blues are the most represented club in the squad, and therefore where better to showcase the next generation of talent than on the home of all things Chelsea?
Unfortunately for Hutchinson, a knock picked up in Monday night’s Reserve defeat to Arsenal rules him out of contention and he did not join up with the squad. It’s a blow to a lad who has spent much of the last two years out with knee problems, especially after his Man of the Match performance in the Carling Cup against QPR, under the watching gaze of the Under-21 chief. Fellow centre-back Mancienne is an old hand in Pearce’s squad, having been capped seventeen times at this level and, most famously, has been given a single senior squad call-up by Fabio Capello. He’ll be looking to recapture some form at centre-half after a few shaky games at Wolves this term.
For Cork, it’s an important fixture from both a personal and professional point of view. He’s been on the fringes of the squad before, and has been called up as an injury replacement on occasion, but was chosen on merit first time for this clash, and he is set to play at the ground where he is currently on loan at Coventry. He has been keeping a diary of his thoughts throughout the week, which you can read over at the Official Coventry City Website.
It’s a similar story for Sturridge, who earned his first promotion to the Under-21s last month, and scored in his second appearance away to Greece before succumbing to an injury which saw his early withdrawal and subsequent omission from some recent Chelsea fixtures. He has found time to tuck away a friendly hat-trick against Ipswich and if he’s fit he should be in line to lead a front line which lacks a true proven goalscorer, even with the presence of Theo Walcott in the party as he himself looks to return to full fitness. Meanwhile, Bertrand is again part of a squad where he is yet to really get his chance, with just two caps and Kieran Gibbs proving himself ahead of him thus far.
So there’s a lot to look forward to, nothing moreso than the presence of future Blues in the national squad. For a club which has been targetted by some in the media as having an un-productive youth system and a lack of interest in young, local, English talent, it’s a big moment and one which should hopefully silence the critics – for the time being anyway.
England Under-21s vs Macedonia Under-21s is live and exclusive on Chelsea TV this Friday night, October 9th, from 7.15pm. Join Jason Cundy, Ray Wilkins and Paul Clement in the studio ahead of a 7.45pm kickoff.