CHANCES IN NEW UNDER-21 CUP
It has been a busy week for the Chelsea Under-21 side already, having travelled to Newcastle on Monday in the league and secured a credible 1-1 draw at St James' Park against a vastly more experienced side.
However, the week also sees the young Blues' debut in a new knockout competition at Under-21 level, as Dermot Drummy's side enter the inaugural Premier League Cup at the last-16 stage and face a tricky trip to Cardiff City this Friday evening, in a game that is being screened live on Chelsea TV, with kick-off at 7.05pm.
The game gives an opportunity for the manager to rotate his squad and assess the full range of personnel options at his disposal, while also providing some of the older members of the age group, who have graduated from FA Youth Cup football, the chance to continue playing in a knockout cup competition.
Drummy, who was pleased with his team's performance up in the north-east earlier in the week, where Jeremie Boga's equaliser earned a valuable away point, signalled his intention to field some of his players with fewer minutes under their belts this term, rewarding the patience and hard work of those who have had to wait for a chance to impress.
Speaking to the official Chelsea website, he said: 'The beauty of this competition is that I can play some of the players that haven't had a start for a while, like Alex Davey, Danny Pappoe and Adam Nditi. These boys have been training really well but just haven't managed to get in the team and the Under-21 Cup provides an opportunity for us to do something a bit different.
'If we progress forward in the competition we have another game before Christmas, as well as the match against Steaua Bucharest in the UEFA Youth League, which is played in the same week as the FA Youth Cup third Round, so we'll certainly have to manage the boys' playing time, but the main thing is getting them quality, competitive games across the board.'
The winners of the clash at the Cardiff City Stadium on Friday night will progress to the quarter-finals and face a home tie against West Ham United, who defeated Bristol City 2-1 in their last-16 game on Monday evening.
Knockout football at youth level has previously centred solely on the Youth Cup, a competition in which Chelsea have excelled in recent years, reaching the final on three occasions in the last four seasons and winning the trophy twice. It is the hope of the Premier League to elevate their Under-21 Cup to similar heights of prestige as the Youth Cup, albeit for a slightly older age group, and Drummy is pleased it gives those players too old for Youth Cup involvement this campaign a chance to battle in knockout football.
'It is nice for the older boys. We're going to be playing at the first team stadium too, so that's two Premier League grounds we've played at this week after going up to St James' Park on Monday.'
Cardiff will provide a tough test for the travelling Blues, with several players involved in and around the first team and, after a 4-3 win after extra time against Brighton and Hove Albion in the previous round, the young Bluebirds will be looking to claim an even bigger scalp en route to the last eight.
'We've played against Cardiff at Under-18 level a little while ago but this game will be totally different because they'll have boys who, at 19 or 20 years old, are on the periphery of their first team squad, and they'll be desperate to impress,' Drummy added.
'We've had them scouted and we've got a DVD on them which we'll watch. I think it's very important that the lads have some information about the opposition because our first team have it all the time and part of our job is to gear up for that level and that process.'
After three consecutive draws at Under-21 level, Drummy will be looking for some improvement in the Welsh capital and, as well as a win that will send his side through, he also hopes to be given a selection headache for the coming weeks.
'It's an opportunity for those boys coming in to know that, if we win and progress, they're playing in the next game because I certainly will reward them and play that group again. It can be tough for them to keep fit, both physically and mentally, but the game allows them a chance to impress me enough to put them back in the Under-21s, so it's nice that I can actually judge them in a competitive game rather than just in training.'
There is news involving three Chelsea Academy players this week.
Alex Kiwomya, an attacker who has played eight games for the Under-21s this season, has signed a professional contract until 30 June 2016.
Kevin Wright, left-back in four Under-21 games this campaign, signed a new contract which expires 30 June 2015.
Ben Killip, a goalkeeper with four youth team appearances this season and 14 last year, has mutually cancelled his contract and is joining Norwich City. We wish Ben well for the future.
-The Under-21s' trip to Cardiff City in the inaugural Premier League Under-21 Cup is screened live on Chelsea TV this Friday evening, with coverage beginning at 7pm.