Every footballer looks forward to getting back to business after their summer off. At Academy level, that’s taken a stage further with groups of 16 year-olds who can’t wait to get their scholarships underway, and Saturday saw Chelsea’s rather large 2009 intake see off Colchester in comfortable fashion with a 3-0 win.
With the exception of captain Conor Clifford, forward Marko Mitrovic and goalkeeper Aldi Haxhia, the rest of Chelsea’s line-up was made of first-year scholars. Lining up in attack was new summer signing Philipp Prosenik, who has arrived from Rapid Vienna. He started on the right of a forward three, with Milan Lalkovic on the left and Mitrovic in the centre, but coach Dermot Drummy’s tactics were quite interesting. He utilised a regulation back four, but from there the remaining six players were quite fluid in their arrangement. Anton Rodgers was nominally the deeper midfielder, but Clifford would often be found out wide on the right. On the left, Josh McEachran was coming inside, as was Lalkovic, to allow Aziz Deen-Conteh to play in much the same way Ashley Cole does for the first team.
Colchester didn’t really offer much, and it was evident from the off just how big the gulf in class between the teams was. McEachran intercepted a pass from a defender and dribbled into the area. He squared to Mitrovic, who had an open goal, but somehow barely got hold of his shot as it squeaked embarrassingly wide. This came in the opening minutes, and the chances continued to come, with Prosenik having an air-shot at a volley from six yards. The newcomer looked happy and settled, was physically strong and quick, and showed good link-up play off both feet.
The Blues’ dominance was converted into a lead midway through the first half on the counter attack. A Colchester corner was cleared and from the edge of the area Milan Lalkovic was set free just inside his own half. He had one man to beat and Prosenik in support, but chose to go alone, ripping around the left side of the defender before shaping his body to bend a right foot shot past the goalkeeper. His pace and skill was too much for the opposition to handle and the lead was very much deserved. Prosenik then showed his ability off his weaker right foot by collecting a pass and hitting a fizzing shot which clipped the post on its way wide.
He wasn’t to be denied though, and a second was added before half time, in similar fashion to the first. Another Colchester corner was cleared to Lalkovic, but this time he sent a ball into space ahead of the Austrian striker. Prosenik hared after it, beat his man and despite his first shot being saved, he gathered the rebound for a tap-in. It had been one-way traffic with multiple Chelsea chances, including attempts from Mills, both Billy and Conor Clifford, McEachran, Rodgers, Mitrovic and both goalscorers, and the two goal advantage was more than deserved.
Drummy made some changes for the second half, introducing more new scholars in George Saville and Bobby Devyne, with the more experienced Kaby and Gokhan Tore joining them. Tore took less than five minutes to score, powerfully finishing a swift move involving Saville and Conor Clifford. It could have signalled a second half of dominance from the hosts, but as it turned out it was to be sloppy and disjointed, with chances mainly falling to Tore, but the Turkish youth international was often greedy and wasteful, regularly blasting good chances over.
Colchester’s one sight of goal came halfway through the second period as Haxhia watched a looping cross to the far post, which was then headed onto the frame of the goal before being cleared to safety. The rest of the game was only particularly notable for the return from serious long-term injury of Billy Knott, who took the captaincy from the Irish Clifford, whom he replaced. He went close with a driving run and long range effort on his weaker foot which had the replacement Colchester goalkeeper scrambling.
All in all, Chelsea will be happy with their morning’s work, getting back to the pitch, scoring a few goals and looking good in the process. There is, as always at this stage, work to be done, but the first steps of the season have been taken.
Team: Haxhia, B.Clifford, Sampayo, Mills (Saville), Deen-Conteh, Rodgers (Kaby), McEachran (Rodgers), C.Clifford (c) (Knott), Lalkovic (Tore), Mitrovic (Devyne), Prosenik (Mitrovic)
(some players returned to the field having been substituted)
Goals: Lalkovic 18, Prosenik 37, Tore 48