UYL preview: Tough return

Our Under-19s return to the UEFA Youth League this afternoon (Tuesday), a competition they won in both 2015 and 2016 but were not permitted to defend last term. Joe Edwards’s side mirror the group stage path of our first team and begin with a Cobham contest against Qarabag, live on Chelsea TV (kick-off 1.05pm).

 

The background

UEFA’s premier youth competition for club sides is back on the Chelsea schedule after a one-year hiatus, enforced by our first team’s absence from the Champions League, prevented the Blues from defending their Under-19 European crown last season. Edwards’s young charges are one of 64 sides competing in the 2017/18 edition, half in the group stage and half in the domestic champions path.

Like Antonio Conte’s seniors, the Under-19s face Atletico Madrid, Roma and Qarabag in Group C, the latter first on the bill prior to this evening’s Stamford Bridge action. Only one side from each group will automatically advance to the last-16, with the runners-up forced to face a one-legged away playoff against one of the eight sides who successfully navigate the domestic champions route. Salzburg, the holders, were victors over Manchester City at that stage last year so Edwards will be keen to top a tricky group.

The semi-final and final is once again set to be held in the shadow of the Alps, alongside Lake Geneva at the Colvoray Stadium in Nyon, a venue that holds many happy memories for Chelsea champions of yesteryear.

The age parameters of the Youth League permit eligibility for players born on or after 1 January 1999. Three ‘over-age’ players can also be included in the 40-man squad, provided they fall in the 12-month age bracket up to 1 January 1998. Harvey St Clair, Josh Grant and Jacob Maddox are the trio to make the cut – the latter pair are two of just five to return after involvement in 2015/16, along with Trevoh Chalobah, Joseph Colley and Dujon Sterling.

 

The form

Edwards’s development squad have had a solid start to the PL2 season, collecting five points from their opening four fixtures. They were last in action three days ago in a 2-2 Cobham draw with Sunderland in which Reece James and Grant were on the scoresheet.

HIGHLIGHTS: Sunderland (H) PL2 17/18

A number of Jody Morris’s youth team are likely to form a significant part of the Under-19 group and they will inject the confidence of a winning start to their league campaign following four victories from four in the Under-18 Premier League south section. 

 

Our UYL record

Our record in the UEFA Youth League is a distinguished one with 24 wins from 28 matches played across three separate seasons and triumphs in 2014/15 and 2015/16. The last time a Chelsea side were beaten in the competition was back in November 2014, while the last – and only - time we lost at home was in March 2014; both of those defeats at the hands of Schalke.

The group-stage numbers are even more impressive with just one defeat in 18 outings and an aggregate score of 57-8.

On the road to victory in 2015, we faced both Atletico and Roma in the knockout round, beating the Spaniards 2-0 in the last-eight before a 4-0 win against the Italians in the semi-final.

Season P W D L F A

2013/14

8

7

0

1

23

5

2014/15

10

9

0

1

36

6

2015/16

10

8

2

0

22

6

Overall

28

24

2

2

81

17

Group Stage Only

Season P W D L F A

2013/14

6

6

0

0

18

1

2014/15

6

5

0

1

24

3

2015/16

6

4

2

0

15

4

View from the manager

Joe Edwards takes charge of the Under-19s for the first time against their counterparts from Azerbaijan and knows the visitors will be determined to cause a surprise against the two-time winners.

‘We’ve hardly seen any footage of Qarabag so we’re going into a game where we know very little about the opponent, which is unusual,’ the manager tells the official Chelsea website as we look ahead to the group opener.

‘For a team that hasn’t been involved in the competition before, I’m sure they’ll be motivated to come and play Chelsea away in their first game. We’ve seen in previous years that a lot of the teams come to Cobham and sit deep, make themselves tactically organised and try to pose a threat on the counter-attack. These games can be quite tactical at times, similar to international football which a lot of our boys have played in at different age groups, so hopefully we can use that experience.’

The development squad may have only the solitary victory to their name so far this term but the manager has been pleased with their efforts and performances in the opening month of 2017/18, citing a belief that they have deserved more than the five points currently on the board.

‘It’s been a good start to the season – we’re playing well and we’ve been the dominant team in all our games so far,’ he continues. ‘We’ve been a bit hard done by in terms of a couple of the results and I thought we did enough to win against Sunderland at the weekend so it’s probably a good thing this game against Qarabag comes around so quickly.’

It’s no secret that our absence from the competition left a hole in the academy programme last season and Edwards feels his players will have a point to prove on their return to action against their opponents from Baku. Past successes and the winning mentality that continues to flow through the group will also spur his young charges forward, believes the boss.

‘It’s really important for young players to get the type of experience that this competition brings, playing against high-level European opposition,’ Edwards notes. ‘This year is probably the most difficult group we’ve had but we want as many tough games as possible for the boys to experience. There’s a lot of players doing well in the youth team, training a lot with our group and this is a good competition to bridge that gap.

‘It was very frustrating for us not to be involved last season after winning it two years running but hopefully the players show how much they missed it and really take this opportunity. There’s real competition for places in the team because they’ve seen what happened in previous years and how special those memories were for the boys involved.

‘When you win, all it does is make your hungrier to get that feeling again. Once you’ve tasted it and had those special memories, celebrating on the pitch and lifting the trophy, you want it again and again. A lot of these boys have won the Under-18 league at domestic level, the FA Youth Cup and a few of them have won the European Under-17 or Under-19 Championship with their national teams so this is the one to complete the set for them.’

Both Atletico and Roma have advanced beyond the group stage in each of the past three campaigns and, with a trip to the Spanish capital in a fortnight followed by a double-header against Roma, Edwards knows there is no room for error in a difficult group.

‘You always want to start well in any competition and get your points on the board in the first game. We don’t take Qarabag lightly but we also know this is the sort of game we have to be winning if we want to get out of this group.’

 

How to watch

Chelsea TV will screen the action live from Cobham, with kick-off slated for 1.05pm. Please note, no spectators will be admitted. There will also be coverage throughout the afternoon on our official Twitter @chelseafc