There is a double dose of European action for Chelsea this week as, before the first team’s encounter with Galatasaray tomorrow evening, our Under-19 side take on AC Milan in the last-16 of the inaugural UEFA Youth League today (Tuesday).
Dermot Drummy’s side secured their passage through the group stage with six wins from six games, conceding just one goal in the process, and will be looking to book a quarter-final contest against either Schalke or Real Sociedad with victory over the Italians at Cobham this afternoon.
Milan were runners-up behind Barcelona in a group also featuring Ajax and Celtic and are managed by their former striker and Italian World Cup-winner Filipo Inzaghi.
Speaking to the official Chelsea website and looking forward to the game, Drummy said: ‘Our group stage record was very good but it counts for nothing now. This is a one-off match so we’ve really got to be bold and play our normal game. We’ve had a lot of success in Europe playing against some top teams and the boys should now take that confidence into the Milan game.’
The recent adverse winter weather conditions have resulted in several match postponements for Drummy’s Under-21 side, many of whom are in the U19 squad and haven’t played since an impressive 2-1 victory at Fulham at the start of the month. However training has been at a high standard in the build-up to this European clash.
‘We haven’t played for a couple of weeks but we’ve had some really good training sessions full of high intensity and we’ve managed to get on the pitches at Cobham regularly so I’m pleased with their fitness levels,’ said Drummy.
‘We may end up with a backlog of games next month and in April but it’ll be a nice problem for us to have. We’ve had success in the Youth Cup, which a lot of the boys from my group have been involved in, and we’re obviously pushing to get into the top four of the Under-21 league to make the play-offs so we just have to take each game as it comes.’
Drummy believes his players will call upon their experiences at reaching the final of last season’s NextGen Series in the tie against Milan, and also expressed his personal enthusiasm for pitting his wits against an international football icon like Inzaghi.
‘Last year’s progress to the final is a big factor for us. We had a young side and now we have the majority of that side involved again this campaign. They have that ability to perform in big games and there’s certainly no bigger game at Under-19 level than to play against AC Milan. There’s a real determination to go one better than last season and there’s a confidence in the fact that we’re a good team that will go and play our football against anyone.
‘To manage up against Inzaghi is fantastic for me too. I used to watch him all the time on television and he was a fantastic player so let’s hope he’s not as good a coach as he was a player!’
An ever-present and captain throughout the group stage, defender Nathan Ake will not feature against Milan after travelling with the first team to Turkey. Despite losing an influential member of the team, Drummy emphasises his job is to develop players that can contribute as part of the first team squad.
‘I saw Nathan in his nice suit before the first team left for the airport and I spoke to him about how he’s moved from travelling at the back of the plane with our Under-19 group to now being at the front of the plane. It’s fully deserved and it’s nice to see him involved with the first team squad and travelling to Galatasaray for a fantastic experience.
‘It allows us to bring up another player to take his position in the squad and Dion Conroy (pictured below) will come in to try to nail down that position for himself. That’s what development is all about; to get players in and around the first team squad and then, underneath that, winning games like this one against AC Milan.’
A quartet of Drummy’s group have been called up to represent the England Under-19s in their forthcoming friendly match against Turkey on Wednesday 5 March. Goalkeeper Mitchell Beeney, full-back Ola Aina and midfielders John Swift and Lewis Baker have been selected by manager Noel Blake for the game at Chester’s Swansway Stadium.
The Chelsea Under-19s v AC Milan Under-19s tie will be decided by today’s single game and, if the scores are level after 90 minutes, will go to a penalty shootout. Kick-off is at 3pm and the venue is Cobham. No spectators will be admitted.
The game will be broadcast live on Eurosport. Chelsea TV will also be showing the game in full at 11pm this evening. You can follow match updates on our twitter feed @chelseafc