THE YOUNG GENERATION

It's been a while, but both our Under-21s and Under-18s are preparing to return to action, and the official Chelsea website spoke to Dermot Drummy and Adi Viveash as they look ahead to the second half of the season.

While December is notoriously a busy period for the first team, for our younger sides, it's a time of rest and recuperation, but having not been involved in competitive football for many weeks, they return to action over the course of the next couple of days.

Tonight, our Under-21s entertain local rivals Fulham at Cobham in a game which could see John Terry play some part as he edges closer to a return having been out injured since November.

Having finished third in the table - behind Liverpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers - after the First Group Stage, we now go into Qualification Group Tier 1, alongside six other teams with a similar record from the opening half of the season.

Should we manage to top the pile at the culmination of the forthcoming round of fixtures, we will then enter a play-off against the winner of Qualification Group Tier 2, with a place in the semi-finals of the overall competition at stake.

Manager Dermot Drummy is relishing a return to competitive action, and sees the possible inclusion of Terry as an added bonus.

'It's nice to get back into the league campaign after the Christmas break, and the fact we know we have to win this phase to get into the play-offs at the end of the season is great in terms of having a target to aim for,' he tells the official Chelsea website.

'We played Wycombe in a friendly a week before Christmas, but our last league game was against Middlesbrough at the start of December, and we want to be playing those type of games all the time.

'For the younger ones it's refreshing because they want to get back into the swing of competitive games. We're using a lot of them across the board at the moment, in the NextGen and the FA Youth Cup, in order to test them at various levels.

'For our young players, having the opportunity to watch how John prepares - physically and mentally - is brilliant. When you see him on the pitch, he's a wonderful advocate of how you should be and how you should play football.

'Sometimes I'm happy just to let the players observe him. Whenever he comes to train with our group he sets the standard; he's there early and is always competitive.

'He's a great role model; he played for us against Arsenal, who had [Marouane] Chamakh and [Andriy] Arshavin up front, and Andreas Christensen, who played alongside him, was saying afterwards how fantastic it was just to listen to his advice during the game.'

All but two of our home games, much like during the first half of the season, will be played at Brentford's Griffin Park, although the match against Middlesbrough later this month will take place at Stamford Bridge, an arrangement which, according to Drummy, benefits everybody.

'It's good for the players and it's great for the fans as well,' he says. 'It's not too expensive, people can bring their children along to see Stamford Bridge and hopefully enjoy a quality game of football.'

While the past few weeks may have been a quiet time for those involved with the Academy on the pitch, away from the field of play there has been plenty to do.

With certain players returning from loan spells, and others in need of a club to help aid their development between now and the end of the campaign, it can be a hectic period.

It is also, however, a time when tough, ruthless decisions need to be made, as Drummy explains.

'We have a nucleus of players at the moment because some have recently returned from loan spells, while others we are looking to get out on loan,' says Drummy.

'Some, though, will be notified that they are no longer Chelsea players, which is always a tough time.'

Adi Viveash, meanwhile, is hopeful his Under-18 side can begin the new year in a similar manner to how they ended the previous one.

Having gone through the first half of the season unbeaten, they now move into an Elite Group, where they will face the best sides from around the country, starting with a trip to Southampton tomorrow.

'We play Southampton away on Friday, which is always a tough game,' says Viveash. 'It was a good game down there last year. They produce some very good players and their coach, Jason Dodd, is a Southampton legend.

'The interesting thing is that we'll have teams that will definitely challenge us. In the space of a week we play Southampton, Charlton in the FA Youth Cup and then Bolton Wanderers, who have done extremely well in their own league.

'Southampton will be quite similar to us in terms of the age of their side; they will have a lot of first years, whereas Bolton will be mainly made up of second years.

'It will be good to play some different teams. We don't usually play Everton, so we will look forward to those two matches, plus we have a bit of history with Manchester United and they're always good games.'

It was certainly a memorable start to the season for Viveash's side, and the tone was set on the opening day with an impressive 6-1 win over Manchester City.

That result will certainly have done the confidence in the camp no harm early on, but while the manager has been pleased with much of what he's seen from his young players, he will be looking for improvements in particular areas in the months ahead, as he explains.

'I'm looking forward to the second part of the season,' says the Blues boss. 'The players have had six months to bed in and get used to the way I work.

I'm hoping they take more leadership in terms of the games, that's what I'll be looking for as a coach. It's about putting the work in during the week and then hopefully they take it on to the pitch.

'To be fair to this group, though, they're very responsive, and they played some really good football in the first half of the season.'

Tonight's Under-21 game against Fulham will be broadcast live on Chelsea TV from 7pm. Please note, the match is being played behind closed doors at Cobham and supporters will not be able to gain admission.

Our FA Youth Cup fourth round match away at Charlton on Wednesday 16 January, meanwhile, will be shown live and exclusive on chelseafc.com, with the game repeated in full on Chelsea TV at 10pm.

Tickets for the match against Middlesbrough at Stamford Bridge on Friday 25 January are priced £5 for adults and £3 for juniors and seniors. Tickets are available from the box office, online or via the call centre on 0871 984 1905.