With the successes in the FA Youth Cup, Chelsea’s FA Premier Academy League action has taken a back seat in both interest and form in recent weeks, and with the all-important Second Leg of the Semi Final approaching next week, Saturday’s game against Watford could go the same way. But, a league fixture is a league fixture and still needs playing, and manager Paul Clement has some big decisions to make.
In the Saturday league fixture ahead of previous Youth Cup ties, Clement has tended to select his strongest possible team, a team that would then typically line up the same in the midweek Cup match. The league match would serve as an effective warm-up for the knockout, and the performance and tactical cohesion perhaps more important than the result – a suggestion backed up by some indifferent to poor form since the turn of the year.
The alternative decision Clement could make for the Watford game is to rest up all the key players ahead of a trip to Birmingham and give chances to some of the younger players looking to make their mark in the Chelsea team as they move towards the end of their first year of scholarship. With a Reserve match on Monday at Derby County also scheduled, some of these younger players could also be called upon to step up, with the likes of van Aanholt, Woods, and Stoch all forgoing regular Reserve duties with the more important game 48 hours later.
So, with Watford visiting Cobham, the likes of Jack Saville, Jordan Tabor, Jordan Hibbert and Daniel Philliskirk could feature. All four are in the first year of a three year youth scholarship, although all except Philliskirk did have Under 18 experience before their scholarship year, rising through the Chelsea ranks. Last time out against Millwall, the Oldham-born Philliskirk scored one and made one in what was arguably his most impressive performance of a season where he’s tried to settle into a new city and a different, less attacking role.
What will Watford bring? Despite having a good recent record of producing talented young footballers – Aston Villa’s Ashley Young undoubtedly the most successful in the last few years – they’ve struggled this season, winning only five of 23 fixtures, and only one of those since early December. Strong striker Liam Henderson is the top scorer with six goals, and after an impressive performance in this fixture last season he’ll be one to watch for Chelsea.
Elsewhere in their team, midfielder Kieran Forbes can chip in with the odd goal whilst England Under-16 international Eddie Oshodi in defence and the skinny Lewis Young – brother of Ashley – in midfield will be names to keep an eye on. Their academy is headed up by Dick Bate, one of the most revered names in youth football coaching and current England Under-18 coach – meaning he’s seen Chelsea’s Nana Ofori-Twumasi, Jack Cork, Ryan Bertrand, Sam Hutchinson, and Scott Sinclair first-hand in the last year or two.
With the end of the season approaching, whoever Clement decides to play at Cobham on Saturday will have something to prove. The more talented and experienced names that will play against Villa will be looking to finalise plans ahead of the big night and make sure they’re at the top of their game, whilst the younger players at an earlier stage of development should be pressing on to be a key part of what could be a Chelsea FA Youth Cup defence in 2008/09.
This fixture last season finished 1-1 with Ofori-Twumasi scoring from the penalty spot before John Joe O’Toole cancelled it out with a spot kick of his own. 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.