While the first team and the Under-18s have completed their respective 2013/14 campaigns over the last week, there remains one last game for Chelsea Under-21s and it is one with a trophy at stake.
They take on Manchester United in the play-off final at Old Trafford tonight (Wednesday) and it is a game that can be seen live on Chelsea TV, with kick-off at 7.45pm.
The young Blues secured their place in the final with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Manchester City at the Etihad, having finished top of the Under-21 league table. Man United secured their place in the play-offs with a last-minute winner in their final league match of the season at Reading, before defeating Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield last week in their semi-final.
Looking ahead to the encounter, Under-21 manager Dermot Drummy anticipates a tough battle against last year’s champions. Speaking to the official Chelsea website, he also reflected on a proud win against City in the semi-final and contemplated a positive year for development throughout the Academy, but he started by weighing up the threat of Man United.
‘United are United. They are a fantastic academy and obviously a great club. My experience of playing at Old Trafford is that it will be a really tough game for us. They never give up and they always come at you and raise their game in the last 15 minutes but it’s what our players need, to go out at Old Trafford and play in front of 5,000 or 10,000 supporters.
‘It definitely matters to play at main stadiums. It’s different when you walk out. We’ve been to the Emirates and the Etihad in recent weeks and the pitches are super so to go and play at a main stadium, even if it is away from home, is better development for our boys. I’m sure they will rise to the occasion.’
Drummy’s side drew 1-1 against Man City just three days after many of the players were involved in a taxing FA Youth Cup final first leg at Craven Cottage. The manager paid tribute to his players’ physical endeavours in that game and admitted it was only when he watched the game back that he realised the frenetic pace at which it was contested.
‘I was pleased with our mental focus. City had a part of the game and were big and strong and played some good football. We should have won the game at the end and then extra-time comes and we’re wondering whether we can last the distance. It was a big physical effort and I look back on the game with a big amount of pride in the boys.
‘You don’t realise until you see it back on the television the next day the level the game is being played at. When you’re on the touchline you know it’s fast but it’s just another level when you watch it back. It was a fantastic game and a fully deserved win.
‘Jamal Blackman showed a fantastic mentality in the shoot-out and then we won by scoring five out of our six kicks, which isn’t bad. Had we gone out on penalties I’d have been really disappointed because I feel this group deserve to hold a trophy this year.’
The club’s programme at youth level this season has been the most demanding in recent memory, with the inaugural competitions of the UEFA Youth League and the Under-21 Premier League Cup introduced alongside altered league formats at Under-18 and Under-21 level. Drummy explains it was the increase in quality and quantity of games that convinced the club to keep players at Cobham rather than give them loan spells elsewhere in January.
‘We thought about whether or not to send any more of the boys out on loan and we decided not to because we felt the league was testing for us and we had the European competition as well. We’ve been really happy with the results.
‘The Youth Cup second leg was probably one of the most exciting games I’ve seen. What the boys learnt there will stick with them forever and naturally we send massive congratulations to Adi Viveash [youth team manager] and all the youth team staff and players for a phenomenal achievement.
‘Now we have the boys going to Old Trafford to try to win another trophy and that pressure is great for them. They’ve been training great and they just can’t wait to get out on the pitch. We’re doing everything the hard way, forfeiting our home legs and going away, but the boys aren’t fazed by that at all because their mentality is spot-on.’
As well as mounting a title challenge, the Under-21 remit includes supporting the first team and Drummy has enjoyed time with Marco van Ginkel and Kenneth Omeruo this term as both players looked to regain match sharpness and fitness before rejoining with the first team squad and going out on loan respectively. Both now find themselves included in provisional training camps and squads ahead of the World Cup finals in the summer.
‘It was lovely to have Marco around. He was such a refreshing character as he came back from a major injury. We worked with Jose Mourinho and [rehabilitation physio] Thierry Laurent on his minutes and we looked after him in one of the games when we thought he’d had enough. Since then he’s just flourished and this end to the season he’s having is great to see.’
Drummy is targeting silverware to end his campaign on a high and reckons that lifting the trophy this week would be an apt end to a positive year for his team.
‘Looking back on the season, it’s been a great year in terms of development for these young players. I’m thoroughly looking forward to the game. We’re not against the odds because we know we finished top of the table but we will be a young team once again. We’re asking for one last push from the players and hopefully it will be a fitting end to the season for us.’
Chelsea versus Manchester United at Old Trafford takes place on Wednesday [14 May], with kick-off at 7.45pm. Tickets are free for all and can be purchased at the stadium on the night of the game. The game is also being screened live on Chelsea TV. There will be match updates throughout on our twitter feed @chelseafc.
Admission to Old Trafford to watch Wednesday’s match is free of charge, with Chelsea supporters advised to go to turnstiles N43, N46 and N48 at the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. It is also being broadcast live on Chelsea TV. Coverage begins at 7.30pm.
By Sam Poplett