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Chelsea U21s qualify for U21 Premier League title playoffs

Steve Bardens

Earlier on Saturday, before the sky fell, the Chelsea under-21 team secured a spot in the U21 Premier League playoffs. Congratulations to the youth and the future!

Wait, playoffs? Playoffs!? We're talking about playoffs! What is this sorcery?

For both years of its existence, the Professional Development League (i.e. Barclays U21 Premier League in all its sponsored glory) has had a playoff to determine its ultimate winner. Why the Football Association decided to run things this way is a bit of a mystery. At least this year's edition is less complicated than the inaugural version that saw the 22 Tier 1 academies divided into three groups, then a further three groups, and then a six-team playoff. Exhausting to even think it through.

For this, the second season, all 22 teams were put into one division, but instead of the traditional home-and-away scheduling, each team's faced the other just once. Perhaps in an attempt to account for this imbalance, the top four teams will contest a short playoff: a two-legged semifinal followed by a final to decide it all.

With Saturday's 4-2 win over West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea have punched their ticket to the small dance. Should they win their last match on Tuesday, they would even finish atop the table, though that hardly matters once the playoffs start. The other three qualifiers are set as well: last year's champions Manchester United, our opponents in this year's FA Youth Cup final Fulham, and dastardly Liverpool. Victory over any and all those teams would taste oh so sweet.

The format will change again next season, with the introduction of promotion/relegation between two 11-team divisions. The top eleven teams in this season's league table will form the top division; the bottom eleven teams will form the bottom division. Obviously, Chelsea are safely in the top half. Hilariously, Arsenal are safely not.

On a final note, with Saturday's brace, Lewis Baker has taken over the scoring lead at the U21/U19 level with 16 goals (4 penalties) on the season from 28(1) appearances. That's Lampard country. The overall Chelsea scoring champion is the U18s' Dominic Solanke, who's found the back of the net 18 times in 21(2) appearances. We sure could use that sort of production at first-team level, no?

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