UNDER-21 PREVIEW: UP FOR A CUP
Defender Alex Davey talks about the innovation of knockout football at Under-21 level, with Chelsea in action tonight…
The halfway point of the 2013/14 campaign is just a few weeks away and, for many players involved in the Chelsea Under-21 side, it has been another positive step ahead in their development as young football players. The club's participation in the Under-19 UEFA Youth League has helped negate the often stop-start nature of the Under-21 league campaign and the bulk of Dermot Drummy's group have enjoyed regular competitive football throughout the autumn months.
However, the start of the season has not been quite so smooth for central defender Alex Davey who picked up an injury in the Under-21s' second game of the season. He was subsequently sidelined for a month and hasn't started a game since. The Scotland Under-19 international is hopeful, though, that a trip to Cardiff City in the last 16 of the inaugural Premier League Under-21 Cup this evening will provide him with an opportunity to show his capabilities.
Speaking to the official Chelsea website ahead of tonight's game, which is being screened live on Chelsea TV, Davey said: 'It is difficult not being involved but we've got such a talented group of players in the Under-21s that I just have to do my best to get back into the side.
'It was unfortunate I got injured after the Southampton game. I suffered a grade two tear on my groin so I was out for about four weeks and it obviously came at quite a frustrating time right at the start of a new season.
'You lose your place in the team automatically and it's hard to get back in when the other lads are doing so well but I've been doing everything I can to get myself back in shape. I've been training well and just waiting for my chance.'
Davey was the highest appearance-maker for Drummy's Under-21 side last season, with 13 starts and four appearances from the bench, and the defender has naturally found the contrast with this campaign quite stark.
'Last season I felt I did quite well, playing so many games and with an older age group as well. This season hasn't gone quite as well so far but, since my injury, I've just been trying to find my feet again and get my performance back on track.'
Despite infrequent involvement in Under-21 matches, he has had the opportunity to work closely with the first team group in training. The groups sometimes combine and it gives the younger players a great chance to learn from their more experienced peers, as well as test themselves against the very best.
'When we had the international week recently I didn't go away with Scotland so had the chance to train with the first team for the whole week, which was a great experience,' he explained. 'The older players are always talking to us, always encouraging us and it's a good education to go and learn from the likes of John Terry, David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill and to play up against the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian in training.
'You can only gain experience from working in training with top players like that, and at a top club like this with all the facilities, so you can only improve as a player while you're here.'
Davey has been involved from the bench for the Under-21s in recent games, entering the fray against West Ham, Sunderland and Manchester City in three out of the last four league games, and his manager has hinted that he will be given the opportunity from the start in the Welsh capital. Davey believes the young Bluebirds will provide a stern test as both sides look to progress to the quarter-final stage.
'The game will be a big challenge. Cardiff will be strong and physical and they've got players that are involved in and around their first team squad. However, we've also got a good bunch of players so we're going there to win and we're looking forward to the game.
'It's amazing for us to play in two Premier League stadiums in one week as well. It's great for us young lads to play in big stadiums like that, where we can feel the atmosphere, and hopefully there'll be a few people there watching too.'
The Under-21 Cup represents an opportunity for those too old for participation in the FA Youth Cup this season to continue playing in knockout competition football and the 19-year-old is keen to be involved in such tense encounters.
'Last year the Youth Cup was a bit of a disappointment, losing in the final, and for me personally too, but it is such good football when it's knockout because you know you have to put everything on the line,' he said.
A home tie against West Ham United, who defeated Bristol City 2-1 in their last-16 game on Monday evenng, awaits the victors of tonight's match at the Cardiff City Stadium, though Davey, who has been at Chelsea since Under-11 level, is keen to remain focused on the task in hand.
'The preparation is quite similar to cup games as it is to league games. We always go into every league game looking for three points and the win so it's very much the same. We need a win to go through so it's a big chance for me and the other lads who haven't been involved so much to prove why we should be starting every game.
'Personally, I'm looking forward to being back involved and getting myself out there again after a little break. Obviously there's players in front of me at the moment who are in good form but hopefully I'll just get myself out there and play well.'
By Sam Poplett
-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 kick-off at 7.05pm.
Click to read manager Dermot Drummy's preview of the game.