The Under-21s made it two wins from two at the start of the season as they beat Norwich City at Aldershot Town this afternoon (Sunday). Jeremie Boga’s strike put the hosts ahead after 30 minutes before a quick second followed through striker Dominic Solanke to send the Blues in 2-0 up at half time.
The visitors responded well in the second half, pulling a goal back through Luciano Becchio’s 50th-minute header, however an own goal from Cameron King just after the hour mark (pictured top) restored the home side’s two-goal advantage and settled the contest.
There were four changes for the hosts from the side that started the season opener against Manchester City, with Fankaty Dabo and Nathan Ake coming into the back four alongside Andreas Christensen and Ola Aina. Mitchell Beeney continued in goal, while Dominic Solanke led the line up front and last week’s winning goalscorer Charly Musonda returned to the starting eleven.
Lewis Baker continued to captain the team from midfield, alongside Ruben Loftus-Cheek, with Charlie Colkett and Jeremie Boga comprising the remainder of the attacking quartet.
The visitors also made four changes from their side that were beaten 3-0 at Manchester United in their opening game of the campaign and Dale Brook’s team featured three former Chelsea academy players in goalkeeper Ben Killip, defender Reiss Awuah and skipper Cameron McGeehan.
Viveash spoke before the game about his side demonstrating their tactical flexibility in this encounter and he set his team up in a system resembling 4-2-2-2 with the ball in the opening exchanges, with Solanke supported by Boga up front. Skipper Baker fired a free kick over inside the first four minutes after Boga was tripped on the edge of the box, however opportunities were limited throughout the early part of the game.
Jacob Murphy brought the first save of the game from Beeney after 10 minutes, though his tame shot was comfortably gathered by the Chelsea goalkeeper, before Solanke’s deflected effort flew behind for a corner following a period of sustained pressure from the young Blues.
However, the visitors from Norfolk were defending deep and in numbers, proving difficult to break down and restricting spaces in and around their penalty area. Colkett’s driven low free kick arrowed narrowly wide of the far post after Loftus-Cheek was brought down and the hosts’ hard work and persistence soon paid off as they found the opener.
Boga burst forward on a rare opportunity to break and the young Frenchman made up 40 yards as he powered at the Norwich defence. With defenders retreating and reluctant to put in a tackle on the jinking midfielder, he unleashed a dipping low shot from the edge of the box that squirmed under Killip and into the back of the net.
The advantage that Chelsea had worked hard to gain was then doubled a couple of minutes later as a lovely flowing attack finished with Solanke grabbing his first Under-21 goal. The Blues probed down the left and Colkett squared the ball across goal from an advanced position to give the lurking Solanke a simple finish from close range.
Norwich responded to the disappointment well as Lucciano Becchio fired over from a promising position 20 yards out and Nathan Fox saw a header cleared off the line by Christensen (pictured below), though it was Viveash’s side firing the final warning shot of the half as a wonderful team move carved the Canaries open and only an offside flag against Ake prevented them adding a third goal.
Norwich had shown signs of their enduring threat in the contest towards the end of the first period and came out after the break with renewed belief, halving the deficit after five minutes. Reece Hall-Johnson made good progress down the right flank and floated a cross into the box, where Becchio powered home a simple header under little pressure from close range.
Solanke had a couple of opportunities to get his second goal of the game as the match opened up. Firstly, he was thwarted by a last-ditch tackle as he latched on to the end of Musonda’s pass forward, before an acrobatic scissor kick attempt following Colkett’s great flighted cross was kept out well by Killip.
Yet the young Canaries’ goalkeeper was helpless just after the hour mark as Chelsea restored their two-goal advantage. A corner from the right wasn’t cleared to safety and Baker’s clever powerful drive across the face of goal was turned into his own net by the unfortunate King.
That third goal deflated the visitors and the Blues controlled the final half hour as they probed for a fourth goal. Boga fired in a strike from 25 yards that thumped back off the base of the far post and Killip pulled off a fantastic save as Baker’s looping effort appeared to be dipping in under the crossbar.
The former Chelsea keeper was in impressive form in the final stages, pulling off another wonderful save to his left to palm away Loftus-Cheek’s close-range header, while substitute Kiwomya shot narrowly over as the hosts finished strongly and secured all three points.
Next up for the Under-21s is a trip to face Everton on Monday 15 September.
Viveash spoke after the game of his pleasure at his side’s performance and indicated they had adapted to a different system very maturely. Speaking to the official Chelsea website, he said: ‘It’s nice to win two games from two but it’s about development at this level as well and we have to challenge the players in different positions.
‘We started with a 4-2-3-1 with three number 10s and it’s a system we played last year against Wolves with the Under-18s that actually gave us a lot of frustration on that day. It can appear very narrow but Nathan Ake gave us good drive down the left and Fankaty grew into the game.
Dominic got his first Under-21s goal and put in a real number nine performance with great movement and strength. Some of our play in the first half was exceptional and Lewis Baker really drove the game for us in midfield. Their midfield usually cause us problems and stifle the game but I thought we did very well in there today.'
With both sets of players frequently locking horns with one another, there was an extra spice to proceedings and the manager admitted it was a former Chelsea academy player that influenced the final scoreline heavily in the last quarter of the match.
‘Ben Killip made a little mistake for Boga’s goal but to recover the way he did shows a strong mentality and I’m sure that’s where he’s maturing now. He’s playing Under-21 games and he made three fantastic saves today.
I’ve coached all three of the ex-Chelsea boys so I do look at them and I’m sure it’s nice for Neil Bath [Chelsea Academy manager] to see as well. We’ve had some feisty games with Norwich in the past and that Youth Cup final defeat will always hurt us but we’re pleased to win again today.’
Chelsea: Mitchell Beeney; Fankaty Dabo, Ola Aina, Andreas Christensen, Nathan Ake; Lewis Baker (c), Ruben Loftus-Cheek; Charly Musonda Charlie Colkett (Alex Kiwomya 63); Jeremie Boga, Dominic Solanke (Reece Mitchell 83)
Subs: Alex Davey, Bradley Collins, Jordan Houghton
Scorers: Boga 30, Solanke 32, King o.g. 62
Norwich: Ben Killip; Michee Efete, Harry Toffollo, Ray Grant, Nathan Fox (Louis Ramsay 64), Reiss Awuah, Jacob Murphy, Cameron McGeehan (c), Lucciano Becchio, Cameron King (Sam Kelly 63), Reece Hall-Johnson (George Couzens 76)
Subs: Marcus Beauchamp, Jake Simpson
Scorer: Becchio 50
By Sam Poplett