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Chelsea U21 qualify for knockout rounds of EFL Trophy

Just one of three youth teams to make it to the second round of the senior-level competition

Cheltenham Town v Chelsea U21 - Papa John’s Trophy Photo by Clive Howes - Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images

The (English) Football League Trophy — currently sponsored by Papa John’s — is the only tournament in English football where youth players get to compete against senior professionals (i.e. the closest we get to B-Teams in England), which makes it an important competition for the invited Academies, including Chelsea.

Each year since 2016, 16 youth and development teams enter alongside the 48 teams from the third and fourth divisions (League One and League Two), then split into 16 groups of four, with the top two from each advancing to the knockout rounds. And while no development side have made it to the final yet, reaching the second round is already a solid achievement — and one we failed to accomplish last season.

This year, Chelsea’s group included League One side Cheltenham and League Two sides Exeter City and Bristol Rovers. We won our first game, against Exeter, on penalties, then beat Rovers, 2-1, before losing to Cheltenham on penalties. (No draws allowed!) Those results were good enough for second place in the group behind Exeter, and a place among the Last 32.

Chelsea’s qualification for round two, the draw for which will take place this weekend, is even more impressive considering that this year has been the worst performance by Academy sides ever, with only three making it out of the group stage.

Well done, Xavier Mbuyamba, Harvey Vale, Jude Soonsup-Bell, et al. and of course head coach Andy Myers!