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Chelsea U-turn on EFL Trophy participation, just ahead of group stage draw

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Clubs are always looking for ways to help bridge the gap between youth and professional levels of football. While one obvious solution to bringing through more academy prospects, implemented in great numbers at Chelsea, is loaning them out and then re-integrating the best and the brightest, another model is that of the B-team system, as used in Spain and Germany. While the FA remain adamant on their stance against B-teams playing in lower leagues, small steps have been taken to try and achieve similar goals.

Along with the more organised and formal re-invention of the U21 Premier League in the form of an U23/Reserves league called Premier League 2, changes have also been made to the Football League Trophy (i.e. Johnstone's Paint Trophy). Formerly a knockout competition consisting of all 48 League One and League Two teams, it has now been expanded to a 64-team competition, consisting of a group stage (16 groups of four) and a knockout tournament for the top two teams from each group.  Sixteen Premier League Category 1 academy teams, including Chelsea were invited to take part.

Chelsea, alongside the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, Newcastle and the Manchester clubs had initially rejected the invitation but Chelsea (the only top club to do so), have backtracked on the decision and now will be participating in the competition after all. The cause for the initial rejection seemed to be the cup's fixture dates, which were clashing with international breaks. Now that a workaround to the fixtures has apparently been reached, Chelsea have consented to take part — though that workaround has caused some controversy with Chelsea's opponents.

Chelsea have been drawn into Southern Group C, with Swindon Town, Exeter City and Oxford United.

Each Development team is supposed to field at least six under-21 players in their starting XI, whereas every Football League side is required to field a certain amount of first-team players. Each team will face each other only once in the group stage, with penalty shootouts to follow any draw to award an additional point (a la the International Champions Cup scoring system). The final set to take place at Wembley Stadium, in April 2017. For further details on the tournament, look no further than Youthhawk's dedicated Wiki.

What sort of team Chelsea will be able to field will largely depend on who heads out on loan and who remains at Cobham.  In addition to the EFL Trophy and the Premier League 2, Chelsea will also compete in the Premier League International Cup and various competitions at the U18 level.  It's still unknown whether the U19s will be invited back to defend their UEFA Youth League trophy (since they didn't qualify automatically through either the domestic champions path or via the senior team).