VIVEASH: TOUGH TESTS
A pre-season campaign our Under 18s are unlikely to forget in a hurry drew to a close last week with a five-team tournament played behind closed doors at Manchester United's Carrington training complex.
Having only recently returned from an eye-opening tour of Asia, manager Adi Viveash headed north with a 20-man squad, predominantly made up of younger, less established players, to compete against Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa and the host themselves, and as the manager explains, it's been a gruelling few weeks for the players.
'It's been a bit of a different pre-season for us with the trip to Asia,' he tells the official Chelsea website. 'It was a great experience in terms of life skills for the boys but, physically and mentally, it's taken a lot out of everybody.
'You play 30 minutes each way as a rule, but you can change it to play less if necessary. When you play the two games in one day that's when it's tough. In the Aston Villa game we only played 20 minutes in the second half as we were dead on our feet, but they were very good about it.
'Everyone's there for the same reason. We're all working on certain things with our own philosophies. The quality of the games is very good and there's a different emphasis on each match.'
In terms of results, the competition turned out to be something of a mixed bag, but with the onus fixed firmly on fitness and the implementation of various tactics and patterns of play, as opposed to results, it was undoubtedly a fantastic learning curve for the players involved.
'We drew the first game against Arsenal 1-1,' says Viveash. 'There's no such thing as a friendly between us and them at any level. We equalised through George Cole with a couple of minutes to go but that was the least we deserved as I thought we played really well. A lot of stuff we've worked on during pre-season came to fruition in that game.
'In the next match we were spanked 5-1 by Tottenham. They were very good in fairness, but we made a few changes and didn't have enough against what was their full-strength team, it was tough and we didn't get enough out of it.
'The pleasing thing was that the players regrouped. That game was in the morning and in the afternoon we played Aston Villa and drew 1-1. We played much better and we controlled the tempo and kept the ball well. Dion Conroy scored from a set-piece and they equalised in the second half. It was very hot at that point but it was a good game.
'We played Man United in the last game and won 2-1 which was very pleasing. United had quite a few players who will feature in the Youth Cup this season whereas a lot of ours are with the Under 21s or away on international duty. We were 1-0 down at the break and fought back to win the game so I was delighted.'
Attention now turns to Saturday, when we will begin the new season with a home game at Cobham against Manchester City.
As opening fixtures go, they don't come much tougher, but that certainly won't faze a group of players who, as Viveash admits, are chomping at the bit.
'They're all tough games. We hope that we'll be strong. Man City are spending a lot of money throughout the club, including the academy,' he says.
'We don't usually play them so it's an exciting fixture in that sense, but the boys are just looking forward to getting going.'