YOUTH CUP PREVIEW: WEDNESDAY ON WEDNESDAY
Another rare midweek break in match action for the first team gives the opportunity for focus to switch to Adi Viveash's youth side. They take on Sheffield Wednesday in the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup tonight at Aldershot.
A comfortable 4-0 victory over non-league Dartford in the middle of last month set up the tie with Steve Haslam's young Owls and, though facing opponents from lower down the league pyramid once again, the Under-18s are under no illusions that they will be in for a tough test against a side that knocked out Crystal Palace in the last round.
Prolific Chelsea schoolboy striker Dominic Solanke grabbed a hat-trick against Dartford and will be looking to add to his impressive tally of 15 goals this campaign, and the other goalscorer that evening in the third round, Fankaty Dabo, expects a sterner challenge from the side from South Yorkshire.
Speaking to the official Chelsea website in the build-up to the cup tie, defender Dabo said: 'We're anticipating a tough challenge. As the Youth Cup progresses the opponents become tougher, though we still think the third round is hard because it's when opposition teams can have momentum from playing in the early rounds.'
Dabo started the campaign with Viveash's youth team but a series of strong performances at right-back forced him into Dermot Drummy's Under-21 side, and he has started the last five league games at the older level, dating back to mid-October. The England Under-17 international credits old-fashioned hard work for his reward of increased Under-21 involvement.
'I've progressed after not having the best of times last season. I've progressed in stages and by just getting my head down and grafting. It's not been easy, but no season is easy. I'm just pleased with the way it's going for me at the moment and hopefully that will continue.'
After signing a professional contract with the club last summer, 18-year-old Dabo remains eligible for the Youth Cup for one last campaign in 2013/14 and is determined to avenge last year's defeat in the final to Norwich City.
'The Youth Cup is really important for us,' he said. 'At Under-18 level it is the most prestigious trophy and if we can display our talents there, hopefully that will enable us to progress on to the Chelsea first team.
'In the last four or five years the club have always reached the final or semi-final and for some of us it's our last opportunity to play in the competition because of our age, so we don't just want to go out with runners-up medals. We want to go one better this year and win it.'
Manager Viveash echoes his Southwark-born defender's warnings of Sheffield Wednesday's threat and feels his side are going to have to improve on their last-round Cup display in order to avoid an upset.
'I've seen their game against Palace in the last round. They won 4-2 on penalties after a 4-4 draw and it was thriller of a game that could have been any score in the end. We've watched that game quite intently and given them the respect in that sense.
'They've certainly got a threat going forward. They play with two wingers and put a lot of early crosses into the box, getting people in there and flooding the penalty area a lot, so we're going to have to defend very well. It's going to be an interesting game because it's quite a tasty tie. They might be a Championship club coming into the game with nothing to lose but we know we're going to have to step up a level to get through.'
Viveash also feels the arrangements of the game, to be played at Aldershot's Electrical Services Stadium and broadcast live on Chelsea TV, mean his players have an added incentive to shine in front of a much wider audience than normal.
'It is nice for the boys to be back at Aldershot and, with the game live on Chelsea TV as well, it's great for those that are not usually seen on the TV to get more exposure. This is the time of the competition when you tend to unearth a bit of a gem. We obviously feel we have some very good players within our youth group and I think a few of them showed that against Dartford, but it's nice for them to get that exposure because they don't really see a lot of it.'
While Dabo, set to make his sixth Youth Cup appearance this evening, is cautious with regards to the visitors, he maintains the overriding emotion in the build-up to these Youth Cup ties throughout the Academy remains enthusiasm.
'We're excited about the game and feeling confident,' he concluded. 'Despite not having the best performance against Dartford, from the training we've done in the past week we're looking forward to taking that into the game and hopefully beating Sheffield Wednesday. We've certainly got all the attributes we need to get the right result.'
Chelsea's youth team versus Sheffield Wednesday in the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup this evening kicks-off at 7.05pm. The game, which is also being shown live on Chelsea TV from 7pm, takes place at Aldershot's Electrical Services Stadium. Admission is £3 for adults and £1 for concessions, with Chelsea season ticket holders gaining free entry on production of their valid 2013/14 season ticket.
- By Sam Poplett.