The U18 squad will begin it's annual march towards the FA Youth Cup again today at Staines Town against Doncaster. It's a bit odd to see a neutral site game, but FA rules force the teams to play at a ground with seating for ticket holders and Chelsea did not have Stamford Bridge available. The game will be available on Chelsea TV for those of you with access, and if you don't subscribe already this is the time of year where it really starts to be well worth the money. The game kicks off at 1:30 PM EST (6:30 PM in merry old England), but replays will be available on Chelsea TV for the next two weeks or so. So now that you know when to watch, I suppose we should let you know a little about whom you'll be watching. Here are a few of the more prominent names that may be involved throughout the cup run.
Nathaniel Chalobah - Chalobah is probably the prize of the Chelsea academy at the moment. After appearing on the first team bench last season we took a closer look at the young prodigy in January. Since that profile, Chalobah has been asked to play regularly at both the center of the defense and in the holding midfield role, but he's also filled in at right back and in a more box to box role. Regardless of where he's played Chalobah has generally been one of the best players on the pitch. I'm not really sure where he'll play tomorrow, but I think in the long term he's probably best suited to the midfield.
Daniel Pappoe - Pappoe is generally Chalobah's partner in the defense at the reserve level, and we profiled him here last January as well. Danny is an absolute monster, he's one of the few players around that can make Romelu Lukaku seem like a normal sized human being. While he's still probably too raw to be a factor in Chelsea's plans, he's certainly impressed enough that he'll be in the discussion for a loan move next fall. He's been battling a minor injury lately, so we may not see him feature tomorrow. Assuming we advance, however, I'd expect Pappoe to be a major factor in the squad for this cup.
Todd Kane - Kane will likely be playing right back for the U18's in this cup run. Last season's leading scorer can play anywhere along the right side, and with his work ethic he's capable of being an Ashley Cole-like threat on both ends of the pitch. Two seasons ago I wasn't overly impressed with Kane, but he has developed nicely in the last year and a half and is probably starting to push for a loan to a lower level club next season. He's an interesting one to watch going forward, as we have little potential talent on the right flank that is anywhere close to ready.
Islam Feruz - Feruz was signed earlier this season from Celtic, and it's becoming pretty clear why they did not want to lose him. Since coming south from Scotland, Feruz has done nothing but continually put the ball in the back of the net. He's not a big guy at all, but Feruz is absolutely on a level above the rest of the U18's with his runs and finishing. He doesn't look out of place leading the line for the reserves at all if that tells you anything about the 16 year old's polish.
Alex Kiwomya - We took a closer look at Kiwomya here. Alex can play anywhere along the front line, but both the reserve and youth coaching staffs have been using him primarily as a substitute to date. With his unbelievable physical gifts he's been scoring at every level thus far, and he's certain to be a nightmare for teams to try to keep contained. At the moment I really think that Kiwomya might be the scariest U18 player in England.
Amin Affane - Affane typically plays in an advanced central midfield role, and he'd certainly fit the.playmaker role. Born in Sweden Affane was a pretty highly touted youngster when we added him to the academy. Technically Affane is very strong despite his lack of size. He's also got fairly good speed and balance. He's most noted for his quick and efficient passing and free kick ability, and he along with Piazon will be major keys to unlocking the strikers.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek - Loftus-Cheek plays both an advanced midfield and wing role for the academy team. He's been in fine form this season and combined with Feruz and Kiwomya probably completes the scariest trio of youth at the academy level in England. Unlike the other two, Ruben was a far lower profile acquisition. He'll likely start today on the left wing, and he's certainly worth keeping an eye on as he's got a knack for getting into dangerous areas.
Lewis Baker - Baker plays in an advanced midfield role for the U18's. He's very good with the ball on either foot, and he's a steady reliable passer. He's also noted for covering a considerable amount of ground in the midfield during games, and his runs into the box often leave him in good position to be a scoring threat. Baker is having an excellent season thus far, so he's worth keeping an eye on.
Nathan Ake - The David Luiz lookalike was a bit controversial when we signed him, but it's easy to see why he was a target. Ake is strong for his age and very good on the ball. Like his hair-brother, Ake tends to take advantage when gaps develop and drive deep into the opposition's defense. He finds himself out of position defensively too often, but that's something that should come in time. He's still amongst the youngest players in the tournament.
Lucas Piazon - Most of you are probably aware of the young Brazilian by this point. We signed him away from Sao Paulo last spring to the dismay of his many other suitors, and since then he's moved to London and managed to complete his transfer ahead of schedule. Because of this, Piazon is expected to start the game tomorrow somewhere on the attacking line. We profiled Piazon last march, and since then we've all probably taken advantage of any chances we get to watch the exciting young Brazilian. While he's played mostly center forward or striker for the Brazilian national side, he's generally been deployed on either wing for the Chelsea reserves thus far. He's been awfully impressive, and in the last few reserve games he's easily been one of the best players on the pitch.
- Jamal Blackman - Jamal is known by his teammates as "Big Black", and when you get a look at him it's pretty clear why. Blackman is huge, standing in at 6'6" with exceptional athleticism. He's the regular stater for the reserve side, but he's still eligible for the Youth Cup this season and expected to be called on. Blackman is highly thought of around England, as he's been a regular at every level of the national team growing up. It's hard to project keepers going forward, but there is very little not to like about Blackman.
The youth team started out the season poorly, but as of late they have been on a run of good form. Combine the good recent results with the reinforcements we'll be drawing from the reserve team (Piazon, Kane, Chalobah), and this squad will probably be one of the favorites despite being likely the youngest. I'm sure you'll start to hear a little more about some of the youngsters who continue to impress, and there will probably be profiles coming on several of them as the season progresses. If you get the chance to watch today, I'd highly recommend taking it. Enjoy...