We were promised Academy Day, and Academy Day was just what we got on Wednesday night, under the lights as Chelsea took on mid-table Championship side Nottingham Forest. And you know Conte meant business; he was a in three-piece suit, the man in black making good on his promises of youth, and getting the result he wanted all at the same time.
It was the first meeting in a decade between two of England’s five Champions of Europe, with wildly divergent fortunes separating the two clubs since Forest’s relegation from the top division in the first year of the Premier League’s existence. Forest, who once beat Chelsea 7-0, were simply hoping to avoid a similar scoreline against them.
Conte made no less than nine changes from Sunday’s disappointing 0-0 draw against Arsenal, with only Captain Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas retaining their spots. Willy Caballero got his appearance since signing as a free agent in July, while Kenedy was playing for the first time since the controversy in China. After the incident, Kenedy had looked all but set to go out on loan to Newcastle United, who were eliminated by Forest in the previous round. Apparently it was his destiny to play against them one way or another.
Batshuayi, Fabregas, Bakayoko, Zappacosta, Christensen, and Rudiger all rotated in, while Eden Hazard finally made his first start of the season after three substitute appearances. There should be no worries whatsoever about his ankle after today’s excellent, albeit fairly low-gear performance. And then there was of course Charly Musonda Jr, making his long-awaited full debut for Chelsea. After all the Instagram hype and teasing and false starts and loans, the day had finally come. His goal, Chelsea’s third, was as cathartic as any in recent memory — tears of joy were not unheard of — and hopefully the first of many, many more to come.
By the time Musonda rifled in that shot, Chelsea were already two goals to the good. Kenedy got the scoreboard operator’s busy day underway with a cool finish from an Azpilicueta cross (delivered by Antonio Rudirger in this case), not five minutes before Batshuayi grabbed what would be the first of three goals after solid recovery and creative work at the top of the box by Fabregas and Hazard. Forest may have felt it was already a bit unfair to face world class players like that, but when Fabregas was also willing to put in a few sliding tackles, there was only ever going to be one outcome. Cesc’s slightly less smart foul at the other end only resulted in a free kick, from which Forest pinged Caballero’s post.
The visitors certainly gave it a decent go, especially in the first 5-10 minutes, but Chelsea were not about to let off. Batshuayi doubled his tally soon after the break, following more strong work from Eden Hazard, who passed up his own easy shot to give Michy the tap-in. What a mighty mighty good man that Eden Hazard is.
Then Conte truly busted open the Academy Day piñata. Out fell Ethan Ampadu (with no.44), Jake Clarke-Salter (no.35), and Dujon Sterling (shirt number 66!), making their first, second, and first appearances for Chelsea, respectively. Ampadu was in fact young enough to be born after the Y2K bug was proven to be much ado about nothing. His first involvement was a bit of a reckless reducer, but he settled down quickly as the Blues continued to dominate proceedings.
Hazard blasted a shot off the post, then Kenedy did the same, with Batshuayi in the right place at the right time to block the rebound back into the net from the latter. A hat-trick certainly won’t do any harm for Michy’s confidence.
Chelsea still had time to give up a shambolic consolation goal, but that only took a very small layer of shine off an almost perfect evening. Musonda’s goal and celebration will live long in memory, while the youth of today can draw hope from the fairly meaningful minutes granted to several others. The Blues will face Everton in the next round to add to an equally busy October schedule, which should once again open up opportunities for the kids.