Our development squad return to action in Premier League 2 this evening (Friday) against Swansea City, with tickets available to purchase on the gate priced at just £3 for adults and £1 for concessions.
Here, the official Chelsea website previews the contest…
As the final stretch of the season comes into focus, our development squad are eyeing a top-three finish in the league for the first time since 2015, while also harbouring slim hopes of overturning a seven-point deficit to the leaders Everton in the final six games.
The Blues have the same number of points as at this stage last term but will be hoping to better their tally of five points from the final half-dozen fixtures a year ago to end the campaign as high up the Division 1 table as possible. The threat of relegation to the second tier, always lingering in such a competitive and tight league, lessens by the week; Joe Edwards’s side are currently closer to the top (7 points) than the drop (8 points).
The visit of Swansea is the first of two games in five days for Edwards’s boys in both domestic and European competition. They will take on AS Monaco in the UEFA Youth League next Tuesday 19 February at Cobham for a place in the last-16.
After two impressive seasons in which the young Welshmen were crowned inaugural champions of PL2 Division 2 and followed that up with a fourth-place finish in the top tier, Swansea have struggled to keep pace in 2018/19.
They had to wait until their 10th league game of the season in November to record a first victory and have managed just one more since, leaving them seven points adrift of safety.
These two sides tend to compete in close encounters, though it is the Swans who lead the head-to-head record since the introduction of Premier League 2 football three years ago, triumphing in three of the four meetings.
Josimar Quintero’s goal was not enough to prevent Adi Viveash’s side going down to a 2-1 reverse in the Premier League International Cup in December 2016, while it was a similar losing feeling for the Blues 10 months later as Oliver McBurnie netted a first-half hat-trick at Aldershot.
However, our trip to south Wales back in September earned a maiden victory as Joseph Colley bundled in a winner to secure the points following a closely-fought contest.
View from the dressing room
Richard Nartey will be hoping to return to the side for this evening’s action in Aldershot and the defender is eyeing back-to-back league wins for the Blues for the first time this campaign as they bid to keep their slim title hopes alive.
‘Consistency has been our biggest problem this season so we’re aiming to put a string of wins together now,’ he tells the official Chelsea website as we look ahead to the game.
'Our record this season actually annoys us because we want to be a lot more consistent at home. We have a poor home record compared to away but as players, we take responsibility for that because we know if we play at our best, home or away, we should win every game.’
Nartey missed the win at Derby County last time out as he served a one-match suspension following a red card in the previous outing against Everton. His dismissal after just 15 minutes on Merseyside left the team with an uphill battle and they eventually went down to a 2-0 defeat, which left the 20-year-old feeling guilty for his part in the result.
‘It was tough because I knew I had let the team down with a mistake and we ended up losing the game,’ he continues. ‘It was such an early red card, which made it very difficult for us to get a result but it was a learning experience for me, to see how I would mentally bounce back from it. My teammates were supportive and helped me come back in easily the next day and get my confidence back.’
The Blues have had a fractured games programme since the turn of the calendar year, though the lulls in match action have presented Nartey and his teammates with an opportunity to develop other aspects of their game.
‘When there are less fixtures, it gives you time to focus on different parts of your own game and you can speak to the coaches or do extra sessions to work on particular things like passing or one-on-one defending,’ he says.
‘You don’t get that time when the games come thick and fast so it can be good. I’ve had a few injuries in the past so it gives me time to strengthen myself and I feel fresher now having worked a lot in the gym.’
Swansea will be desperate to collect the points to keep in touching distance of the teams above them so Nartey knows it will be another difficult challenge at Aldershot, though he believes the right application will stand the hosts in good stead.
‘We know every team we play is always going to be hard,’ he continues. ‘Swansea away was probably one of our tougher away games but we managed to win 1-0 and that was with a great team performance.
'We know no team in this league is easy and Swansea always make it hard for us but if we focus on ourselves then I’m sure we’ll come away with the win.'
— Richard Nartey
‘All the teams have quality especially up front and the strikers have different characteristics, really quick or really strong. Playing against older players really gets you used to men’s football and makes it easier to go from Under-23s football to the senior game.
‘The more you play in this league, the more you feel yourself physically catching up with everyone. Last season I had to use my brain a lot, which is also good, but this year I’ve been able to work the physical side as well.’
Last time out
Frank Lampard was an interested observer as our youngsters recorded a hard-fought win on the road in Derbyshire last week. Conor Gallagher’s goal moments before half-time proved the difference between the sides, though the victory also owed much to hard graft and a defensive resilience at the back.