Under-18s preview: Starting right

Our youth team open their Under-18 Premier League campaign this morning with a trip to Aston Villa, the only side Jody Morris’s men didn’t beat in last term’s hugely successful season in which three pieces of silverware were won.

The youngsters have a tough task to follow after the triumphs of 2016/17 but development remains at the forefront of the season’s aims and Morris has been pleased with how the group have applied themselves throughout pre-season in the build-up to their opening fixture.

‘Pre-season for us has been about getting to know the new lads and obviously we have the added bonus that Ed Brand [Under-18s assistant] has worked with a lot of them previously in the Academy,’ Morris tells the official Chelsea website.

‘I think there was a shock to the system for a few of them early on in terms of the intensity and quality that is expected from our group; they’re full-time footballers now and that brings its own pressures.

‘I enjoyed our pre-season camp in La Manga, the lads worked really hard and seemed to integrate well as a group. The friendlies have been a bit up and down but we’ve played a lot of older opponents and you just want to see the willingness to work hard and impose yourselves on the game when you face those physical challenges.’

Conor Gallagher in action against Portsmouth in pre-season for the Under-18s.

The most recent outing was a Cobham meeting with Colchester’s Under-23s, who were beaten 3-1 last weekend. The test provided a good challenge ahead of the opening weekend of the season, which we will start as defending league and cup champions. However, Morris believes the current crop may take slightly longer to adapt given their youthfulness and lack of previous experience in the Under-18 Premier League.

‘Due to the way we’re pushing our players into the senior game at a younger age, this year’s Under-18s group is probably lighter than it has been before in terms of those who have experienced youth team football,’ continues Morris. ‘Last season’s group performed so well and were fortunate with injuries so we didn’t have as many schoolboy players involved with us.

‘It means we have to be a bit more demanding on the second-years as individuals this season because some of them need to be better at taking responsibility and leading the group. Ed and I will be putting that pressure on the older boys but that’s only a good thing for their development.’

Out of 18 opponents in all competitions last season, only Villa failed to suffer a loss at the hands of our Under-18s, a fact Morris admits he has used as a source of motivation for his players ahead of their trip to the Midlands.

‘We’ve looked at the things we didn’t do so well in the away game last year because not only did we draw the game but we probably would have lost on points if it were a boxing match. It’s good to give the boys that reminder, especially those who were involved last year, and remind ourselves of the characteristics that Villa had. We have to be ready for it because we were guilty of being caught unware in our first couple of games last season and we don’t want that to happen again.’

Kick-off at Villa’s training ground is at 11am this morning and there will be updates on our official Twitter @chelseafc