A novel Chelsea cup campaign that began back in August at Cobham reaches its climax this evening in Como, Italy.
The club’s Under-19s side has made it all the way to the final of the NextGen Series at the first time of asking, this season’s competition having begun with 24 teams representing top clubs from the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Russia, Italy, Greece, France, Scotland, Turkey, Norway, Portugal and six from England including Aston Villa, the other finalist.
Arsenal were beaten by Chelsea on Friday, allowing all attention to turn to the match-up with the West Midlands side. Andy Myers (pictured below left), who is Dermot Drummy’s assistant for both the Under-19 and Under-21 sides (many players featuring for both), fills in the details.
‘The day after the Arsenal game we went to a spa by the shore of Lake Como because it was great for the lads to recover,’ he says.
‘There was a swimming pool, a jacuzzi and a steam room and it was just right for light recovery work because with a tough game having gone into extra time, it took a lot out of the lads.
‘On Sunday morning we trained in preparation for the game against Aston Villa. It wasn’t a full-on session, it was medium intensity, making sure we got a few things right out there based on what we think Villa are going to do in the game.’
Since the Arsenal win, Nathan Ake, who made his full first-team debut at the end of February, has been able to fly out and join the Under-19 squad. That selection by Rafael Benitez was in midfield, which he has played at younger levels too, but his three NextGen games so far have either been in central defence or at left-back.
For Drummy, Myers and the rest of the U19 coaching staff, there is no need to alter their pre-match routine greatly because it is a final.
‘I think the boys prepare themselves well mentally,’ explains Myers. ‘It is a big occasion and they may change mentally but we won’t change our preparation. We will do what we need to do and it is down to the players when they cross the white line. They are in charge. We give them the game plan and the ideas but it is all down to the players in the end.’
The degree of detail involved in the Chelsea Academy entering a competition such as this one means the areas of player preparation and care involved with the first team are covered here too. Myers runs through the backroom team in Italy.
‘On the medical side we have the Dr Chris Hughes, the Academy doctor, and Steve Hughes the Under-21s physio. Chris replaced the Under-21s doctor Dave Porter who had to go home for family reasons and we wish his family well.
‘Matt Birnie is the conditioning coach who works on the boys’ fitness and makes sure they get the right nutrition.
‘Ben Smith is the performance analyst who is there videoing all the games and he will be helping us with clips we need on Villa to highlight their threats and where we see we can break them down, so his is a very important role as well.
‘Craig Brown aka Duffers is our liaison man who has been influential in getting everything sorted with NextGen and has been the man looking after the kit and the timetables and everything like that, and has done really well.
‘Mark Beeney is the Under-21 and Academy goalkeeping coach who brings great experience to the role having been a keeper at Leeds United and worked at Chelsea for many seasons.
‘And there is Dermot and this year has been great for me as a young coach being able to listen to his ideas and be myself as well. He is a great youth development coach.
‘It has been a good year for the staff team. We bond and that is a big thing, there is a trust in the team and that goes right through the Academy.’
Myers, as a player, was featuring in the Chelsea first team when he was the age of a NextGen participant, having made his debut at 17, but he believes such a tournament back then would have been beneficially to him and his generation.
‘When we were that age the only time we ever went abroad was with England at a young level, and being that age you can only value playing abroad. These boys today have done it from a young age and the way they conduct themselves around the hotel has been first class, and that goes through all the years at the Academy because that is the culture we set.’
Aston Villa reached today’s final by finishing second behind Sporting Lisbon in the group stage and ahead of PSV Eindhoven and Celtic, and then by knocking out Ajax and Olympiacos before facing Sporting again in the semi-final.
They won that 3-1 after extra time on Friday with goals coming from Graham Burke from the penalty spot, winger Jack Grealish and captain and midfielder Samir Carruthers who was in the Villa side beaten by Chelsea in the 2010 FA Youth Cup final.
‘Our NextGen semi-final against Arsenal was a tough game and Villa will be as well,’ says Myers. ‘They will be prepared for it and we are going to play our game and hopefully impose the way we play.
‘No matter what, we must play the game and not the occasion and show what we are about. And it should be a very good and entertaining game.’
Chelsea versus Aston Villa in the NextGen final kicks-off at 5pm UK time, 6pm local time. It can be seen in full on Chelsea TV from 8pm.
There will be match updates on our @chelseafc Twitter feed.