It’s a Monday night, which usually means a Chelsea reserve game should be scheduled. For the majority of the season that will be the case, but the 2009/10 season gets underway tomorrow night (Tuesday) with a new manager and some interesting changes in the squad.
When Guus Hiddink took over the club in February, he enlisted the part-time help of Paul Clement, then Reserve Team Manager. Paul shared his time between first team duties and the reserve team, but travel and schedule clashes meant he was often unavailable and left Dermot Drummy in charge. When Carlo Ancelotti asked for Clement to continue in his work with the first team, it made sense to find a new leader for the Reserve team. That was found a little under a fortnight ago in the appointment of Steve Holland, who comes with a wealth of experience and a CV listing some impressive names he has helped to develop.
Pre-season has been up and down for the Blues’ second string, often under the charges of Academy Manager Neil Bath, with Clement on tour with the first team. Wins over Crawley Town, 1860 Munich and QPR were tempered by defeats to Aldershot and the Uzbekistan Under-20 team, with a draw against Farnborough thrown in for good measure. A hastily-arranged sixth friendly against Al-Ahly didn’t go to plan, and despite rumours and stories, we’ll draw a line underneath that right here.
A mixed bag it may have been, but there were a number of positives to take from the summer’s warm-up games. The highlight must surely be Fabio Borini’s continued goalscoring form. After a breakout year in 2008/09, he has come back from his summer looking a little bigger and more robust, and scored in four successive matches. He goes into this coming season leading the Reserve attack, and knowing that a good run of form and development could lead to absolutely anything – as evidenced by compatriot Federico Macheda at Manchester United last season.
Other positives can include the wealth of competition in goal with Rhys Taylor now fit again, the continued growth of Jeffrey Bruma both physically and technically, and Adam Phillip’s return to full fitness. They all promise to be key players in the coming campaign, especially because no fewer than thirteen potential reserve team players have departed on loan this summer, depleting numbers, but therefore leaving a greater opportunity for the next generation to make the step up and accelerate their development. Let’s have a look at the squad:
In goal, Taylor’s return from a concussion sustained in February means that he will compete with Nic Heimann and Jan Sebek for the starting gloves. Taylor, as the eldest and most experienced of the trio, should expect to start most often but could also benefit from a loan, meaning that Sebek and Heimann may split time. Sebek emerged from the pack due to injuries in 2009 but took his chance with both hands and has continued to look good, whilst Heimann has looked good fundamentally whilst working on decision-making.
Most of the defence has left on loan for at least half of the season, but the core should remain for now, and offer some stability. Jeffrey Bruma will be paired with Sam Hutchinson or Carl Magnay, depending on Hutchinson’s increased involvement with the first team squad, whilst either can also deputise at either full-back position. Throughout pre-season Nikki Ahmed has played at right-back when Shaun Cummings hasn’t, and with Cummings on loan and Nana Ofori-Twumasi set to join him, Nikki will have his chance. Ben Gordon should move into the left-back berth with both Ryan Bertrand and Patrick van Aanholt out on loan. In addition, expect either Hutchinson or Magnay to captain the team.
The midfield has been hardest hit by loans, with five of the squad’s regular seven having gone elsewhere. It leaves Daniel Philliskirk and Michael Woods almost assured of a start, and depending on whether a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formation is used, Conor Clifford could move up permanently. If Holland decides to go with one fewer midfielder, the head of the triad could be Gokhan Tore, or more likely Gael Kakuta when the Frenchman is fully recovered from his horrific broken ankle. Kakuta’s contributions are likely to be key to the team, and for his own personal development.
In attack, Borini will lead the line. If it’s in a 4-4-2 he’ll be paired with Adam Phillip, but if he is a lone frontman then Phillip will move out left, with Jacopo Sala on the right, where he has been impressing at this level. Since Frank Nouble departed for West Ham, it has opened up a wing spot for someone to take, and the aforementioned Gokhan Tore will also be looking to make it his, having started to really show his technical prowess since signing in January. The attack is the least affected part of the team, with only Miroslav Stoch really having gone out on loan, and his reserve involvement last season was irregular at best.
As ever, the fixture list has thrown up a disappointment, with only 16 games on the agenda once again. Whilst the divisions would have once again been aligned for an 18 game season, Tottenham decided to withdraw from the competition, leaving the South split with just 9 teams again. It means the opening game against Aston Villa is the only home game until October 19th, and there are only three at Griffin Park before Christmas. One can only assume that as with last season, the calendar will be fleshed out with friendlies and tournaments.
You can keep right up to date with the Reserves, as well as the Under-18s and anything else regarding the club below first team level right here at CFCnet throughout the season.