Well that didn't go according to plan. After a fantastic preseason and plenty of promise, the Chelsea U21 squad opened their league season with a disappointing home loss to Tottenham Hotspur. To be fair, Spurs were the best side in last season's U21 Premier League, but this ... this was not what we expected at all.
On paper, and without knowing any intimate details about the young Spurs facing us, Chelsea's strong lineup was confidence-inspiring. Nathaniel Chalobah and Nathan Ake anchored the back line - both are ready for bigger & better things, so surely they would be dominant. The always impressive Ruben Loftus-Cheek, growing bigger and stronger by the day, slotted into midfield alongside John Swift, while a pacey and exciting attacking band of Jeremie Boga, Josh McEachran, and Alex Kiwomya looked to operate behind new face Isaiah Brown who had been playing center forward ever since switching to Chelsea from West Bromwich Albion.
A nervous opening for Chelsea saw several mistakes from goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney, including a giveaway inside his own six-yard box, but fortunately Spurs failed to take advantage. As the boys settled down, they started to pick apart Spurs' high line. The pace of Kiwomya and Brown, combined with the dribbling prowess of Boga was proving unplayable for the visitors. Brown's finish was letting him down however, and the match remained 0-0.
It was another tremendous Boga run that would lead to the first goal. Slicing through five-six Spurs players, his pass for the breaking Ruben Loftus-Cheek was sweet as you like. Having established his position inside the area, the clumsy challenge on Loftus-Cheek was only ever going to result in a penalty kick. Josh McEachran made no mistake from the spot, calmly sending Scotland under-21 international Jordan Archer the wrong way, and Chelsea were ahead - unfortunately Josh was soon forced off with an ankle injury.
Worse yet, Chelsea pretty much imploded from there as things went downhill rather quickly. Spurs would score three times before the half was out then would add one more in the second, Chelsea looking ragged and disorganized throughout. The Chalobah - Aké partnership was not working well at all, perhaps both unable to kick the habits they've picked up playing midfield for most of last season. The trio of Harry Kane, Iago Falque, and Shaquile Coulthirst were dominant for Spurs, scoring all four goals between them and simply making us look rather bad. Perhaps only right back Andreas Christensen came away with any credit for Chelsea.
As Spurs dominated possession with high pressing and a high defensive line, Chelsea's gameplan revolved around trying to break with speed. And while they certainly have the talent and personnel to do so (especially after bringing on Islam Feruz in the second half), their passing and concentration kept letting them down repeatedly. It wouldn't surprise me if Chelsea's pass completion hovered around 60% for the day. Even when Spurs were reduced to 10 men in the 88th minute, they dominated proceedings and carved out two-three decent chances even.
Isaiah Brown would add a consolation goal just before the red card, but Chelsea were truly and soundly beaten. This is certainly not the on-field product that we were expecting from the under-21 squad, and most certainly not the start that we would've liked. Still, it's a long season and it can only get better from here.