It's been a busy week for me personally, but the Chelsea youth, at various age levels, have been even busier this week even with the U18 match getting postponed from today (Saturday) to nine days from now (Chelsea U18 vs. Wolves U18 now on Tuesday, November 11 at 12pm GMT). But let's start with the youngest.
Before the players become official academy scholars, it's often hard to keep track of their matches and their development. While some, like Islam Feruz or Jeremie Boga become key members of the U18 squad even as schoolboys and thus are visible to the public eye, most will practice and play behind the scenes essentially, then almost appear out of nowhere whenever a new season starts. Another current example of this is 16-year-old striker Dominic Solanke, the leading scorer at U18 level with seven goals in six matches. He's been working his way through Chelsea starting at the U8 level in 2004. He was seven. Seven!
Solanke, along with several other schoolboy U18 squad-mates (including forward Tammy Abraham, midfielders Mukhtar Ali and Ruben Sammut, and defenders Jay Da Silva and Fikayo Tomori) took part in the Premier League U16 National Tournament, the finals of which were held last Sunday. While the tournament was mostly contested by, as the name would imply, Premier League academies, a few foreign squads were invited, too, including (but perhaps not limited to) Ajax, Marseille, Real Betis, and Real Madrid. It was the latter whom Chelsea faced in the final, and thanks in part to this amazing goal by Mukhtar Ali, they triumphed 2-0:
Tammy Abraham was named attacker of the tournament, while Jay Da Silva matched that accomplishment in defense (via @CFCSam_90). As Neil Bath, academy manager, said at the U21 match on Friday, the academy's philosophy is to combine player development, a specific playing style, and winning to mould players not just into highly skilled (physically and mentally) players but also into winners.
Congrats to the U16 squad!
As mentioned at the top, their league match was postponed from this Saturday to Tuesday of the week after next, which means that Chelsea remain third in the Barclays U18 Premier League, five points behind leaders Tottenham Hotspur.
Dermot Drummy's charges played on Friday and judging by a few comments - apologies for failing to create an appropriate thread for them - some of you enjoyed the pulsating 3-3 with league leaders West Ham that unfolded in front of our eyes. The result leaves Chelsea fourth, six points off the pace although with a game in hand.
Just as important as the result was the general quality of play - West Ham are obviously a good team, but Chelsea played far better at times - and the impressive fightback from not only 0-2 but from 2-3 down with just a few minutes to go. West Ham snatched the lead mere seconds after Chelsea worked so hard to tie it up at two each and lesser men would've crumbled. You often see this quite clearly in college basketball, for example, where momentum is everything.
Chelsea responded beautifully however and through sheer power of will conjured an equalizer, captain Nathan Ake guiding home the rebound after Billy Clifford's shot cannoned off the crossbar. That was Clifford's second woodwork-assisted assist: Lewis Baker scored Chelsea's first from a far post rebound. In-between, John Swift, arguably the most improved U21 player so far, scored his seventh of the season.
In further good news, Kenneth Omeruo started and played the first hour in this one. He looked understandably rusty and sometimes a step or a second slow, but it was nice to see him back in action.