UNDER-21S IN ACTION UP NORTH
A busy week of competitive football for the Chelsea Under-21 side gets underway this afternoon (Monday) with a league trip to Newcastle, as Dermot Drummy's team look to build on a recent run of form that has seen them unbeaten in their last three outings.
A clash with Cardiff City in Wales follows on Friday as the young Blues enter the inaugural Under-21 Premier League Cup at the last-16 stage. It is a game that will be shown live on Chelsea TV but the more immediate matter is facing a Newcastle side that have a point to prove after an indifferent start to the season.
The venue for today's game, which kicks off at 1pm, has been switched to St James' Park and Drummy believes that could provide the extra incentive for his players to go out and impress. Speaking to the official Chelsea website, the Under-21 boss said: 'I'm really pleased the match has been switched to the stadium because I certainly think that adds to the occasion.
'Newcastle will hopefully put out a couple of first team players who have not been getting regular playing time, which is always better for us as we like to play against the best. We come on the back of a good result with the Under-19s at Basel in the UEFA Youth League and the team are in good spirits and performing very well. All the players are available after international duty so we're really looking forward to it.'
The Under-21s haven't played since a thrilling 3-3 draw against West Ham at Aldershot at the start of November and, despite frequent European action to keep the players active, a host of Drummy's squad dropped down to join their natural age group in Adi Viveash's youth team for the recent 3-0 win at Arsenal. Jeremie Boga starred, grabbing a first-half hat-trick that sealed the points, while there were also starts for Mitchell Beeney, Isaiah Brown and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
'Generally, I believe in playing the boys outside of their comfort zone,' Drummy explains. 'Against Arsenal, though, you know you're going to get a top game so we wanted to see how the likes of Ruben and Jeremie performed at their own age level.
'It also gives Adi [Viveash, the Under-18s manager] a stronger squad because a lot of Adi's players are in my group so it's nice sometimes for a coach to get his strongest players together. All the boys performed well and I think that's a good sign for when the FA Youth Cup comes around.'
The youth team will enter the Youth Cup at the third Round stage, hosting non-league Dartford in a fixture that will be played before Christmas, with full details to be confirmed.
The immediate focus, however, centres on the trip to the north-east to face a side that have only won twice all season and have conceded the league's highest number of goals, going down 6-2 at Aston Villa in their previous league outing. The Blues, on the other hand, currently occupy fifth place in the table, having won four, drawn tow and lost two of their eight league games this campaign.
Drummy has been pleased with his side's start to the season, though feels his Under-21 group need to adopt the winning mentality that his younger Under-19 team have shown in their European outings in recent months.
'The Under-19 group are doing very well,' he continued. 'Their performances in the UEFA Youth League have been really good, winning five on the trot and only conceding one goal. We've been performing well in the Under-21s as well but we've dropped points in games that we really should have won.
'Sometimes when you don't get that win it really makes a difference looking at the table and we dropped points against Everton, West Ham and Sunderland when we could have done better. But we've got a winning ethic at the moment, more so than ever before, and that's really good to see.'
That may be useful as the Under-21s face a tricky run before the Christmas break and it is a group mentality that Drummy has been keen to foster and is eager to keep intact. The window for Football League clubs to loan players shut for the final time before the New Year this week and Drummy was pleased that none of his group departed.
'I think we've got a great dynamic at the moment,' he said. 'I've got a super bunch of boys training 100% every day trying to get in the side. They're a fantastic group of people both on and off the pitch and at the moment I think they're best playing in these elite competitions rather than going elsewhere.'
The young Magpies have seen a couple of players head out on loan this week, however Drummy is sure they will remain a threat. 'They've got a very good player up front in Adam Armstrong,' he said.
'We've had Ed Brand do a scouting report on them and even though they've conceded a fair amount of goals they've also been scoring a lot of goals too. With that in mind, it's going to be a really entertaining game because we'll certainly go up there and attack them.'