THE YOUNG GENERATION
The 2013/14 season promises to be one of the busiest yet for the club's young sides.
With this in mind, the official Chelsea website sat down with Academy manager Neil Bath to look ahead to the new campaign, and he discussed some significant changes which have been made to the youth development competitions.
Last season for the Chelsea Academy, our Under-19s reached the final of the NextGen Series, the Under-18s competed in a second successive FA Youth Cup final and Lucas Piazon and Nathan Ake, both at only 18 years old, made three and six appearances for the first team respectively.
With the 2013/14 campaign now only a matter of weeks away, the anticipation is beginning to build, and there have been a number of changes to the way in which the action will unfold for our youngsters, most significantly on the European stage.
The new season will see the Blues compete in the inaugural UEFA Youth League, which is a tournament designed to run alongside the Champions League, and will see our Under-19s, led by Adi Viveash (pictured below right), go head-to-head with some of the best players of that age Europe has to offer.
'The Under-19 Champions League is a new competition that's been organised by UEFA,' says Bath (pictured above centre).
'The draw gets made and we play the same opposition as the first team, so you shadow the first team in terms of the games programme.
'It then goes into an open knockout competition, and then the semi-final and final will be played over a few days' period.
'While we're at the draw we'll discuss the logistics of how that will all work. There's flexibility in the logistics, it's not a rule that says you have to play on the same day, but you must play in the same week as the first team.
'There is a stadium criteria, which is quite thorough. It's anticipated our games will be played at Brentford. However, when you have so many programmes going on and you have to get the balance right with clubs we work with such as Brentford, it becomes difficult to plan.
'We are also upgrading our Cobham facility to cater for a few more people to try to create that stadium environment.'
Having been beaten finalists in last season's NextGen Series, the Blues will attempt to go one better this time around when we enter the tournament for a second time, with Dermot Drummy once again taking charge.
The draw for the group stage will be made on Monday, and Bath outlined the most crucial change from the 2012/13 competition.
'Because of the UEFA Youth League, the NextGen has extended its age group by another year, so it's more aimed at Under-20 football, but because of some of the international dates you can include some Under-21s as well.'
There have also been some key adaptations to both the Under-21 and Under-18 domestic leagues compared with the previous campaign, which Bath again explains.
'The Under-21 Premier League programme is for all Category 1 level academies, and we will all play each other once,' he says.
'How it will work is that if you play Liverpool at home, for example, you will then play Everton away, and if you play Manchester City at home you will play Manchester United away.
'At the end of the season, the top four teams will play in a semi-final and then there will be a final. In terms of that competition, three games must be played at your main stadium, so three of our games must be played at Stamford Bridge. Only three are allowed to be played at your training ground and therefore the remaining games must be played at other venues.
'The Under-18 league will be split into regions - North and South - with each team playing the other sides home and away, as well as playing every team from the opposing group once, home or away. The top two teams in each group advance to a semi-final stage.'
In addition to the Under-21 league programme, their fixture-load will increase following the introduction of a domestic cup competition, with the games are expected to take place in midweek.
'Over the years we've become very familiar with the FA Youth Cup,' says Bath. 'But this competition will be put on by the Premier League as an Under-21 knockout tournament.
'Ties will be played over one game and will be a straight knockout scenario. At this moment in time, my understanding is that when it gets to a final stage, it will be played at a neutral venue, as opposed to the Youth Cup which is played over two legs.'
With our players from Under-18 to Under-21 ages set to be competing across three different competitions each, there is plenty to look forward to as the new campaign approaches.
Bath believes the changes in structure, both domestically and in Europe, will only serve to benefit the young players' development.
'The new programme is exciting for football because I believe it will raise the level,' he says.
'For younger players, this is raising the bar in terms of the tactical challenges that European football can offer with the NextGen and UEFA Youth League. They will be playing against different tactical formations, different cultures and playing in different competitions. For me, it all adds to the development of our players.
'It's important to remember competition is part of their progression. We understand they're in a development programme, but when they get to the age of 17 to 21, competition is what they will face and that's what it's all about.'
Our Under-21s kick-off the new season with a home game against Tottenham Hotspur at Aldershot Town FC on Friday 9 August, kick-off 7pm.
Our Under-18s, meanwhile, will face Sunderland at Cobham on the opening day of their campaign. The match takes place at Cobham on Saturday 17 August, kick-off 11.30am.