Checkatrade Trophy preview: Counting on experience

Our journey in the Checkatrade Trophy continues this evening as our development squad participate in the knockout round for the first time with a trip to MK Dons, live on Chelsea TV from 7.45pm.

The Blues were 3-1 winners at Exeter City last week, a result that helped us finish second in the group and advance as one of only four development teams to reach the last-32. The next challenge is to achieve a similar result in Buckinghamshire tonight against a side currently 16th in League One.

Joe Edwards, our development squad head coach, has guided his youngsters unbeaten through the competition to date but believes their most difficult test awaits them with a trip up the M1.

‘It should be the toughest game we’ve had so far in the competition,’ he tells the official Chelsea website. ‘We’ve seen MK Dons over a number of years develop a reputation as a team that likes to play football so we know it will be a big challenge for us but I’m sure when they see our team sheet and the experience we’ve added to the group, that will add a bit of motivation for them as well.’

HIGHLIGHTS: Exeter City (A) Checkatrade Trophy 17/18

Edwards was in the dugout yesterday as our Under-19s beat their counterparts from Atletico Madrid to secure top spot in their UEFA Youth League group. He admits that taking a squad to Stadium MK 24 hours later has presented a challenge to the staff that work collectively with both age groups, though being able to split the players into two groups has been beneficial.

‘It’s obviously a challenge, more for the staff than the players because we’ve been able to put a big enough pool of players together where nobody has to double up and play in both matches,’ continues Edwards. ‘Winning three out of three away games in Europe gives you a platform so we were able to give a lot of younger players an opportunity against Atletico.

‘We’re adding some more experienced players to this group who haven’t yet featured for us in the Checkatrade Trophy. Some of them need minutes and some are trying to make a statement to potential loan clubs or to the first team staff so hopefully we have a group of well-motivated players looking to go out and win the game.’

Our Checkatrade Trophy season so far

Opponent Result Scorers

Plymouth Argyle

D 2-2

Hudson-Odoi (2)

Yeovil Town

D 1-1

McCormick

Exeter City

W 3-1

Hudson-Odoi, James, Grant

The Checkatrade Trophy has provided some respite for our development squad amid their difficulties in Premier League 2, the domestic league campaign, where they have won just twice this season. Edwards was left surprised with just how much victory in Exeter meant to his players as he acknowledges the impact the competition has had on his group.

‘It's been a break from what has been a frustrating campaign in the league so far,’ he adds. ‘The boys recognised very quickly, particularly in the first two group games, that they had to be at their maximum physically to even be able to compete in the game.

‘I didn’t realise until after Exeter how much the players value the competition – the mood in the dressing room was as excited as I’ve seen some FA Youth Cup dressing rooms after winning semi-finals so it’s good to see the way they’ve embraced it.

‘Playing big games in away stadiums is something these players are used to now so they will just look forward to it. I don’t think the occasion will unsettle them in the slightest and they will relish playing at probably the best ground in League One.

‘We’ve certainly felt the atmosphere in this competition more than our normal games and that has brought a bit more out of us as well. There’s been a little pocket of Chelsea fans at each of our games so far and hopefully they will come out again to support us.’

Supporters can purchase tickets on the door at Stadium MK at the away ticket office, priced at £5 for adults/seniors and £1 for under-18s. Kick-off is at 7.45pm. There will also be updates throughout the evening on our official Twitter @chelseafc, while Chelsea TV are screening the action exclusively live.