After the successes of Thursday night at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea’s youth team return to Under 18 League duty to face a tricky test against Portsmouth. With their last scheduled league outing against Ipswich twice cancelled due to waterlogged pitches, the team have a couple of games in hand on teams above them and will be looking to carry their winning ways in the FA Youth Cup over into the league for the next stretch of the season.
Youth Team regulars Nana Ofori-Twumasi, Jeffrey Bruma, Ben Gordon, Jacob Mellis and Gael Kakuta were all starters in the 3-1 win over Leicester in midweek, and all three made a strong impact, cementing their reputations and growing abilities within the club as first year scholars (in Bruma’s case still a schoolboy). On Saturday, the likes of Jack Saville, Daniel Philliskirk and Fabio Borini should return to the side as Ian Woan brings his improving Portsmouth side to Cobham.
In their league matches since the turn of the year, Chelsea have twice won 3-2 with injury time winners. Against West Ham they were pegged back twice before Ofori-Twumasi scored a last-gasp penalty, then at Norwich Sergio Tejera rescued the team from a two goal deficit before laying on another late winner for Jacob Mellis. The regularity of the goalscoring is a sure positive but coach Paul Clement will most certainly be hoping for an improvement in the team’s defence, especially from set-pieces, where they continue to look vulnerable.
Portsmouth’s academy side has taken a number of positive steps this year, as they have somewhat adopted a policy Chelsea use and have signed some talented young footballers from other clubs. Forward Paris Cowan-Hall joined from Rushden & Diamonds, having had an unsuccessful trial period with Chelsea, whilst giant Tom Kilbey joins Chelsea’s Sam Walker and Liverpool’s David Amoo in having departed Millwall this season. Theirs is a team who recently beat Arsenal’s strong Under 18 team, and one that held Chelsea to a scoreless draw at Eastleigh earlier in the season.
After this Saturday’s game, Chelsea’s youngsters will have a weekend off, then hit a heavy schedule including further FA Youth Cup fixtures and a training camp in March where the new scholars for the 2008/09 season will be integrated into the squad. With Anthony Grant and Adrian Pettigrew having left the club on new loan spells at the close of the transfer window, two berths open up in the reserve squad for impressing u18 regulars, and in turn some of next year’s new scholars may very well see some time in the u18 line-up in the coming weeks and months.
Bruma, Walker, and Frank Nouble, all still schoolboys, have extensive experience with the team this season, whilst Jacopo Sala has had enough appearances to also feel at home. The likes of Conor Clifford and Andrew Spencer in the u16 squad have had pre-season or substitute roles at the next level this season and could come into consideration, as could Milan Lalkovic, Danny Mills and Billy Clifford (no relation to Conor).
This fixture last season didn’t take place as Portsmouth’s Academy was not of Premier League standard. In joining this year they have created a fixture anomaly which will see the two teams meet for a third league game in April. The match takes place at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground with an 11am kick-off. Entry is free and encouraged. The nearest public transport is Cobham and Stoke D’Abernon Station, where you will then be able to ask a Chelsea security guard for directions from Platform 2. A full match report will follow on CFCnet.