Mitchell Beeney and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, two of Chelsea’s Under-19 squad who will compete for the NextGen trophy in Italy later today, have good reason to value this season’s experience in the competition.
Both moved from being schoolboys to full-time first years at the beginning of this season and both have played six of the nine games on the road to this European Under-19 final.
For 6ft 5in goalkeeper Beeney, who has been ever present in the FA Youth Cup campaign this season, it shows steady progression. He has also made two Under-21 appearances.
For central midfielder Loftus-Cheek (pictured above), it has been the chance to make a significant contribution to a cup campaign. Unlike many of this team mates today, injury denied him the chance to play in last year’s successful FA Youth Cup games until he came on as a second-half sub in the second leg of the final.
‘The NextGen has been a very good competition, I have played quite a few games,’ agrees Beeney.
‘I have only missed Juventus and Ajax at home and Molde away, so it has been good to get as many games as possible against good quality teams.
‘Everyone is buzzing about making the final and it is really good to be around the group,’ he adds.
‘It showed in training yesterday. Everyone was really up for it and it was quite lively, and everyone just wants to get playing now. ‘
‘I didn’t play many games last season due to the injury,’ points out London-born Loftus-Cheek, ‘so to come back this season and be part of the Youth Cup squad and the NextGen and with a chance of winning both, that is really exciting for me and I am happy that we are doing well as a team.
‘We have a really good team spirit because a lot of us have been here a long time and know each other well. It is like a family and it shows on the pitch because when we lose we don’t argue, we just get on with it, and that is why we come back in a lot in matches.’
As the player who observes this Chelsea Under-19 side’s displays in full in front of him, Beeney (pictured below) describe how they have been able to shoot down the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Arsenal.
‘It’s probably our attacking flare – the players we have like Jeremie [Boga], Lewis [Baker], Alex Kiwomya’s pace and Connor Hunte when he came on the other day, his pace helped kill the opposition. If the opposition concentrate on keeping one player quiet then the person next to him can run riot.’
Loftus-Cheek and Baker will often be deeper in the midfield three than Boga but expect plenty of flexibility.
‘We can all rotate in midfield, we can all play in the positions and that makes it harder for the opposition,’ says Loftus Cheek.’Together we work really well and that is why we can dominate games in midfield.’
An important part of the 17-year-old’s season has been improving his condition under the guidance of the medical staff following his injury last season.
‘I haven’t played many full matches this year and that it is to do with fitness as well because of not playing that many matches before. I think we have done well managing it with the physios and next year is the one I am hoping to really push on.’
Beeney is in the unusual situation of being developed at Chelsea by someone who knows both him and his game as well as anyone – his father Mark who is the Under-21 and Academy goalkeeping coach.
‘He is hard on me but that is only because he is my dad and wants the best for me. I like it, I’m quite happy working with him every day.’
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.