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.
And that is what will happen, despite Bristol Rovers' best efforts at a comeback. Chelsea one of just three invited U21 teams to qualify, along with Arsenal and Aston Villa (West Ham did qualify but used an ineligible player in one match and the points deduction knocks them out). https://t.co/TxhqctT71u— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) November 10, 2021
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!
An update to this: Brighton didn't make it and West Ham have been hit with a points deduction for fielding an ineligible player, so just three U21 teams advance to the last-32. That's the lowest number in the six seasons Academy teams have been involved.— youthhawk (@youthhawk) November 10, 2021