In November, Chelsea’s Reserve season hit the lowest point as a young side travelled to Villa Park and returned having suffered a humiliating 6-0 defeat. On Monday night, the season closes with the return fixture, and a chance for revenge after the initial match was postponed due to a frozen pitch back in February.
Of course, Villa aren’t likely to feature Marlon Harewood, a hat-trick hero that night. They’re unlikely to feature anyone close to the first team squad, with numbers thin and busy on Sunday humiliating rival Birmingham City. That’s not to say they won’t be talented and a tough proposition – a number of players likely to be involved have already come face to face with Chelsea this season in the FA Youth Cup Semi Final.
The season for Brendan Rodgers and his team has been very up and down. They started out brilliantly, sauntering past Portsmouth and Derby, finding the goal with regularity. But as players left on loan spells and winter drew in, the weakened and younger teams struggled, going six games and a good few months without a goal. The arrival of Franco di Santo in January helped remedy that, and it’s absolutely no coincidence that his form has been at the forefront of a return to respectability.
The teenage Argentine striker has 6 goals in 7 reserve games and has been a leading star in each performance. Last time out away to Tottenham he notched his first Chelsea hat-trick, two penalties (both of which he won) either side of a fabulous and instinctive volley from the edge of the area. In his short time at the club he’s shown he can finish in a variety of ways and is quickly adapting to the more physical nature of English football.
The turnaround in form can also be attributed to a number of senior players being involved over recent games. With the main squad close to full health in most positions and the youngsters involved in the FA Youth Cup, the likes of Steve Sidwell, Tal Ben-Haim, Paulo Ferreira and Claudio Pizarro have turned out for the Reserves. Branislav Ivanovic has also been working his way back to full fitness after signing in January and has been very impressive in his few outings against Premiership players like Henri Camara and Adel Taarabt.
Monday’s team could easily see a few of those players involved again, with two Champions League ties either side of a monumental clash with Manchester United restricting realistic playing time for the fringe players over the coming weeks. There is a question in goal, with Rhys Taylor having been pressed into Under 18 action at the weekend with a lack of fit goalkeepers. He may well be fine to play, but there’s an equal chance the club turns to Stuart Searle once again.
Rodgers will also have the likes of Miroslav Stoch, Patrick van Aanholt, Michael Woods and Sergio Tejera to call upon again after the end of the FA Youth Cup. Their reserve appearances have been limited and instead the midfield berths have gone to Phil Younghusband and Jimmy Smith. The two long-serving Chelsea players are running out of time to prove they can make it at the club and will be looking to impress (along with a few other players) in their last opportunity of the season.
Villa are currently top of the Premier Reserve League South and can clinch a place in the Final against Liverpool with a win. Kevin McDonald’s team have been flying all season and are the top scoring side in the league. Professional experience should be provided by Stuart Taylor in goal and Moustapha Salifou and Wayne Routledge in midfield. England Under 19 international Ciaran Clark anchor the back four and Youth Cup standouts Barry Bannan, Nathan Delfouneso and Harry Forrester should all play a part. Delfouneso and Forrester accounted for Villa’s Cup goals against the Blues, and Bannan played a key part in them.
This fixture last season saw Villa come away from Aldershot with a 2-1 victory. Lee Sawyer’s goal ended a four game team drought but Bannan and Zoltan Stieber scored for Villa. 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. A match report will follow on CFCnet.