PL2 preview: Striking the balance

Competitive football returns this weekend across the club and our development squad kick off the action this evening with a Premier League 2 encounter against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, live on Chelsea TV.

Joe Edwards takes charge of our oldest development age group as we meet last term’s league runners-up on the first day of the new campaign. The opener follows a productive pre-season for the young Blues, who have faced varied opposition both at home and abroad since their return to training in early July.

‘We’ve had a good balance of games in pre-season in terms of the type of opponent we’ve faced,’ Edwards tells the official Chelsea website as we look ahead to the new season. ‘Crawley, Aldershot and Lewes were three senior teams which is good preparation for our involvement in the Checkatrade Trophy again this year, and not just preparing for that but also something we try to expose the players to more often.

‘We also have the UEFA Youth League back in our programme this season, which we’re all looking forward to after not being involved last year, so going out to Germany to play Hertha Berlin Under-23s was a good experience for us. They’re an older team who were at the end of their pre-season and just about to start in the fourth tier of German football so that was a good test for us and probably our best performance of pre-season.

‘We then finished off with a game against Fulham, one of our local neighbours, to get a taste of what we’re going to face at domestic level this season and again it was a real strong performance in an 8-0 win. It’s always nice to get a few clean sheets and score a few goals as we did but the main thing in pre-season is the physical outcome and we looked really strong and sharp in that game.’

Isaac Christie-Davies in action during the final pre-season friendly for our development squad, an 8-0 win over Fulham.

Edwards and his assistant, the returning Andy Myers, are clearly pleased with the group’s work over the past six weeks. The pair both spent last season in different roles, Edwards as part of the loan technical staff at the club and coaching with England Under-18s, and Myers in the senior setup at Vitesse. However, their familiarity with each other and the players has ensured a comfortable return.

‘It’s been quite a smooth transition really,’ continues Edwards. ‘I was only out of a coaching role here myself for one year and the squad is very similar to the one I worked with at youth team level in 2015/16. Andy and I have worked together before as well so it’s been a case of just getting into the swing of things. We both gained a lot last year from our experiences and now it’s about using that in the best way possible to help develop this group.

‘I’ve been out and seen clubs in League One and League Two, watching them train and play, while Andy has been working day-to-day at a European club. As coaches, the better knowledge and understanding we have of what actually goes on, the better we can prepare our boys for that next step.’

"We’re juggling the balance of preparing and recovering around games with still trying to improve, educate and develop the players but those are challenges we want."

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The development squad programme this season will certainly test both players and staff. Alongside the 22-game league season, our youngsters will also participate in the Checkatrade Trophy and the UEFA Youth League, the Under-19 Champions League equivalent. With a number of players from last year’s group having since departed on loan, the squad is youthful once again but Edwards believes what they lack in experience is offset by their quality and application. However, the manager is also keen to stress the importance of placing development at the heart of their work over the next nine months.

‘It’s a young group but I still think it’s a talented group and when you look at the success that the Under-18s had last year [winning the national title and FA Youth Cup, the latter for a fourth year running], I know those boys will all be really hungry.

‘Although it might be difficult, the aim at this club is always to win things so I’m sure the players will be aiming to win at least one of the competitions we’re involved in. Of course that’s not our main objective but I don’t think age will be a problem for us.

‘The games programme is perfect because it represents the schedule we’re preparing them for in first team football, playing twice a week. It presents challenges because we’re juggling the balance of preparing and recovering around games with still trying to improve, educate and develop the players but they’re challenges we want.’

The opening fortnight of the campaign could reasonably be described as a baptism of fire for Edwards and his young charges. The trip to Manchester is followed by a visit to Plymouth Argyle in the Checkatrade Trophy, before home fixtures against Derby County at Stamford Bridge and Everton, the defending PL2 champions.

Development squad - first five games of the season

Date Opposition Competition

Fri 11 Aug

Man City - away

PL2

Tue 15 Aug

Plymouth Argyle - away

Checkatrade Trophy

Fri 18 Aug

Derby County - home

PL2

Fri 25 Aug

Everton - home

PL2

Sat 9 Sep

Sunderland - home

PL2

‘If you look at our fixtures across the whole season, I think we have probably two of the most difficult games in the first five days. We know we have to be at it from the off and the boys are excited about that.

‘It’s obviously unusual for games like this to be the very first one of the new season and it makes it a little difficult to prepare because you’re not sure whether to look at PL2 games from last season or reflect on the Youth Cup final in terms of which players will feature.

‘I think fitness and how well certain players have come out of pre-season will be a big factor, especially in the second half. It’s a pitch full of top young players so it will be a high-tempo, high-intensity game and the second half is where it might be decided. City are probably our rivals at youth level now because of what’s gone on in the last few years so the boys are really looking forward to facing them at the Etihad.’

The game kicks off at 7.05pm and will be screened live on Chelsea TV, while there will also be updates on our official Twitter @chelseafc

 

-There have been changes to a number of our upcoming development squad fixtures. Next week’s home game against Derby will now take place at Stamford Bridge; tickets are on general sale and can be purchased online here. Our trip to Leicester City in September will now take place on Friday 22 September at Holmes Park, kick-off 7.05pm, while Tottenham away has been moved to Saturday 18 November, kick-off 12noon.