Twelve months ago, Chelsea kicked off their ultimately glorious U21 Premier League season with a disappointing home loss to Tottenham Hotspur. For the first twenty minutes today, that script looked to be repeating itself as Manchester City were quicker, stronger, and better in just about every phase of the game. Outside of a chance fashioned by Charlie Colkett, Chelsea were hanging on for dear life. It was some of the worst football I've ever seen played by the under-21s, and that included some shambolic corner defending, which is how City's goal arrived.
Then, about halfway through the first half, the Blues finally settled down, found some cohesion and started passing the ball around. City's insistence on playing out from the back under any and every circumstance was playing into our improving high press and we started to create chances at a regular clip. Unfortunately, Angus Gunn in the Citizens' goal was having an excellent day and City continued to lead at the half 1-0.
Chelsea came out for the second half unchanged, but full of purpose. New head coach Adi Viveash's 4-3-3 formation was a slight departure from Dermot Drummy's tried and true 4-2-3-1, but the flexibility it afforded in both the attacking and midfield bands was starting to pay off. Patrick Bamford as the lone forward flanked by Alex Kiwomya (right) and Jeremie Boga (left) was combining better and the midfield trio of Lewis Baker (captain), Charlie Colkett, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek asserted themselves on the proceedings. At the back, Nathaniel Chalobah and Andres Christensen sorted out their early problems, while the strange inverted full back pairing of Todd Kane (extremely right-footed on left) and Ola Aina (slightly left-footed on right) were quickly growing in confidence. But Angus Gunn wasn't going to give up his clean sheet that easily, denying Lewis Baker soon after the restart. It was Boga and Bamford who combined to release our leading goalscorer from last season, but Baker's effort was tame and right into the diving goalkeeper's outstretched legs.
A change that would not pay immediate dividends was made ten minutes into the second half, 17-year-old Charly (Musonda) replacing 17-year-old Charlie (Colkett) as Chelsea switched to a 4-2-3-1 with Boga as the #10. Colkett hardly looked out of place on his first day at this age level, providing at least three scintillating passes from midfield. The boy's got quite a vision and the skill to pull off the telling pass, that's for sure. Impressive. Musonda, in turn, would fail to influence the game until the very end.
Before then Bamford was withdrawn for fellow first-team European training camper Dominic Solanke, at which point Chelsea started pushing everybody but the two defenders and Loftus-Cheek forward. The equalizer came from an unlikely source: a low cross by Ola Aina's weaker foot, a wild swing of the boot by the Manchester City defender, and Pablo Maffeo could suddenly lay claim to the dubious achievement of scoring for both teams in the same match. In the City defender's defense, Solanke was lurking right behind him to slot home regardless.
Once tied, there was only ever going to be one winner (despite Devante Cole's ludicrous Kiwomyan speed on the counter and an Andreas Christensen clearance off the line), and Chelsea's task was made easier when the other City center back Shay Facey was sent off for a second bookable offense. It did take the Blues ten minutes to take full advantage of the man advantage.
We were already into added-on time when the previous quiet Charly Musonda -- who had up to that point occupied himself with incredibly useless, narrow, predictable dribbling and a good bit of standing around -- sprinted back to track the City runner and intercept the ball. A couple quick touches later he was already releasing Boga down the left wing. As Boga collected the ball and waited for runners, Musonda busted a lung to get back into the play. Meanwhile, Boga moved inside and found Kiwomya free on the right wing. The speedster often lacks a final telling ball, but this time he cut it back to that man Musonda, waiting at the penalty spot. Once swing of the right leg, a calm, composed finish, and Chelsea gobbled up all three points.
A fantastic result and a good comeback (once again) against the team that finished fourth last season. Be sure to check out some pictures courtesy of Dan Davies here (should be uploaded soon). Next up for Adi Viveash's side will be another home game, against Norwich City in nine days' time.