UEFA YOUTH LEAGUE: AIMING FOR FOUR OUT OF FOUR
After two impressive wins in Germany last month for both the first team and the Under-19 side, this week is Schalke's return trip to London and Dermot Drummy's youngsters will be looking to continue their 100% winning record in the UEFA Youth League campaign, after three wins from three games.
Successive 4-0 victories over Basel and Steaua Bucharest opened the group stage before a 2-0 win last time out in Gelsenkirchen, thanks to goals from Lewis Baker and Nathan Ake, put the young Blues into a commanding position in Group E.
Schalke presented a stern test in that game and it was only some tactical tweaking at the interval that enabled the visitors to triumph, however Drummy was pleased with the way his side adapted and responded to the changes asked of them.
Speaking to the official Chelsea website, the Under-19s manager said: 'We tried to play on a pitch that wasn't conducive to playing out and we had to change our game, but we weren't just hoofing it forward. It was actually Mitchell [Beeney, the goalkeeper] trying to play longer balls wide and then us drop the ball in and play a little bit higher up the pitch.
'We knew Schalke wouldn't be able to keep up their level of pressing and, as the game went on, I was really pleased with the winning mentality and that the boys stuck together and delivered what was required with the result.
'We had a number of chances and it's pleasing that the boys travelled and worked hard. We've got a great group dynamic, they've got a wonderful ethic, they play for the club and it's a pleasure at times to watch them perform.'
Baker put the young Blues ahead from the spot at the Stimberg-Stadion in Germany after Fankaty Dabo had been felled inside the area, before captain Ake added a second in the final few minutes with a simple tap-in from a corner. It was a result that put Chelsea three points clear of Schalke at the top of the group and meant they proceed into Matchday 4 as one of just three clubs in the competition on maximum points, along with Spanish sides Real Sociedad and Barcelona.
A win for the Under-19s at Aldershot this afternoon (Wednesday) will secure their passage through to the last-sixteen with two games to spare, and it is qualification Drummy is looking to ensure as soon as possible so he can give some of his younger squad members valuable European football.
'I've spoken to Adi [Viveash, the Under-18s manager] and Neil Bath [the Academy manager] and what we want to do in this Youth League, if we do qualify, is push some of the younger players to give them an experience,' he said. 'Hopefully we can qualify against Schalke and it will give us a little bit of leeway.'
The bulk of Drummy's European side make up his Under-21 domestic team, who drew 3-3 at Aldershot on Friday evening against league leaders West Ham. The manager expressed his disappointment after the game with aspects of that league display, particularly the start in the first half, and emphasised the need for his players to consistently perform well each week.
'The boys are realistic,' he continued. 'They just focus on playing. I say to them they've got to keep performing, keep playing well and get the eye of the first team manager, and the only way they'll do that live right, train right and play right.'
The Under-19s host Schalke at Aldershot's Electrical Services Stadium today with kick-off at 3pm. Admission is free but, for those unable to make it down to the stadium, the game is being screened live on Eurosport.