UNDER-21 PREVIEW: TAKING ON THE TOP
It has been 11 days since the Chelsea Under-21s were last in action, a 1-0 defeat after extra time at the hands of Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the Under-21 Premier League Cup at Aldershot, as bad weather has prevented them for returning to action sooner.
Speaking to the official Chelsea website ahead of this evening's trip to Fulham, which can be seen live on Chelsea TV, Under-21 assistant manager Andy Myers (pictured above) admitted the postponement of last Friday's league game against West Brom, due to a waterlogged pitch at Cobham, had left the players with plenty of time to mull over the disappointment of last week's Under-21 Cup exit.
'It was a bit disruptive,' Myers said. 'It was disappointing that we didn't get a chance to play again sooner after the defeat to Arsenal but obviously the weather hasn't helped. We've been fortunate in that the West Brom game was our first match postponed.
'The pitch at Aldershot made it difficult against Arsenal, but generally we've been quite lucky. The main training pitches at Cobham have still been good so we've been able to continue training as normal out on the grass.
'It was disappointing to get knocked out but we all know losing is a part of football and the boys have to go on now and show their character. We need to bounce on to the next game so we're looking forward to the match against Fulham.'
Fulham remain the only unbeaten side in the country at the Under-21 age level, with eight victories and four draws from their 12 league games this term. They currently sit top of the league table, with Dermot Drummy's side in fourth, six points behind them, though the young Blues are unbeaten in the league since the end of September. However, Myers is fully aware that his side are in for a stern test at Motspur Park.
'Fulham are a very good side. Their Under-21 group is similar to ours in the sense that a lot of the boys have been together for a while and they have a good squad that understands one another. They play good football and it will be a tough game for us.
'I went and watched them against Arsenal in the previous round of the Under-21 Cup and, even though they lost 1-0, they put in a very good account of themselves. Kit Symons [Fulham's Under-21 manager] is a good coach and it should be a very enjoyable game of football.'
One player the Under-21s coaches will no longer call upon is Lamisha Musonda. The Belgian midfielder, brother of Academy players Tika and Charly, joined KV Mechelen in his homeland after his Chelsea contract was terminated. He spent 18 months at club, during which he made 15 Under-21 appearances.
'Lamisha saw a new venture and I think it's just a great move for him,' said Myers. 'At the age of 21 he's looking to further his career. He's going to play top-flight football in Belgium and we certainly all look forward to seeing him push on and wish him all the best.
'His departure gives us a little bit more room for healthy competition and it might mean there's another avenue for somebody else to get an opportunity to play and be involved in the squad.'
Another familiar face among the Under-21s over the years has departed for Belgium recently, as Billy Clifford secured a loan move to Royal Antwerp at the end of last month. Clifford, who spent time at Yeovil Town at the start of the campaign, will link up with former Blues striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, now manager at the second-tier club.
'Billy is probably the type of footballer who is well-suited to playing over there,' commented Myers. 'I think he'll go over there and get physically stronger and it's great that he's going to be working with Jimmy, who understands the way we play as a football club and is most likely trying to do the same out there with Antwerp.
'Young English lads are going abroad more often now and that can only be good for the players and their development. A lot of our players at Vitesse, for instance, are going away and experiencing a different culture over there and I think that's good for players to see that.
'It's great that people are looking at our leagues to bring youngsters over and play them in their own leagues because a few years ago I don't think it happened so much and players were a little bit reluctant to take the risk.'
Back at Chelsea, striker Isaiah Brown (pictured below) recently signed his first professional contract with the club upon turning 17. Brown is likely to feature this evening against Fulham and, with nine goals notched up already this campaign, will be looking to move his goalscoring tally into double figures against the league leaders.
'It's always a big step signing your first professional contract but Izzy Brown's big step was also coming here to Chelsea last summer from West Brom, learning the way we are as a club and our philosophy,' said Myers.
'All the players are in good shape and are just eager to try and get back to winning ways. You look at good teams and they respond to defeats. They come back and get stronger and stronger and I think that is what we have to look to do now.'
The Under-21s take on Fulham at Motspur Park this evening in the Under-21 Premier League, with kick-off at 7.05pm. The game is being screened live on Chelsea TV, with coverage starting at 7pm.
By Sam Poplett
- The forthcoming U21 games against Arsenal, Middlesbrough and Blackburn, all in March, will all be broadcast live on Chelsea TV and will therefore kick off at 7.05pm.