It's Chelsea versus Swindon in the EFL Trophy this evening (Tuesday) as the curtain comes up on the 2019/20 campaign for our Academy.
The Blues head west along the M4 to the County Ground, a familar venue for them in this competition in recent years. Here, we preview the action and hear the pre-match thoughts of new boss Andy Myers...
Three years after academy teams were first invited to compete in the Football League Trophy on a trial basis, the inclusion of 16 of the country’s top under-21 teams alongside the clubs from League One and League Two has now been approved on a permanent basis.
Manchester United and Liverpool have also accepted invitations to be involved for the first time in 2019/20, adding to the calibre of those fighting on the side of youthful promise over more seasoned experience.
With Joe Edwards at the helm in 2017/18, our run to the semi-finals remains the furthest any academy side has reached in the competition, when only a penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of eventual winners Lincoln City denied our youngsters a trip to Wembley. We also made it out of the group stage last term, defeating Swindon, Plymouth Argyle and AFC Wimbledon before eventually bowing out to Peterborough United.
The draw this season has teed us up with returns to the County Ground and Home Park, as well as a trip to Bristol Rovers. Teams face each other once in the regionalised group stage before the top two advance to the knockout round. In the event of a draw in the group stage, each team gets one point before a penalty shoot-out is held to determine who will win a bonus point.
The Blues ended pre-season last week with a creditable 1-1 draw away in Glasgow against an experienced Rangers Under-23s side. They have beaten their counterparts from Swansea City as well as the senior sides of Newport County and Poole Town in recent weeks, with Armando Broja among the goals with three.
The Robins from League Two are the opponents for our development squad’s EFL Trophy opener for the second successive season. They kicked off their league season at the weekend with a 2-0 away win at Scunthorpe United, with goals coming from Jerry Yates and Keshi Anderson.
Earlier in the summer, it was announced that former Chelsea Academy defender Dion Conroy had been made club captain for the 2019/20 season.
View from the dressing room
Andy Myers is the new development squad head coach and our former defender believes his side’s pre-season campaign has prepared them perfectly for the challenges that lie ahead. The 45-year-old took charge of our youngsters following Joe Edwards’s promotion to Frank Lampard’s backroom staff but he is no stranger to this age group or this competition, having assisted Edwards for two years before his own switch to Under-18s head coach last term.
Myers has challenged his players with trips to non-league Poole Town and League Two Newport County this summer, experiences that were designed to provide a similar challenge to the threats they will face in the EFL Trophy.
‘It’s been really good in terms of building up minutes and the boys have adapted to things well,’ he told the official Chelsea website when reflecting on the pre-season programme.
‘Our most recent game against Rangers was probably the toughest game we’ve had in pre-season, with them bringing in some senior players who needed game time. It was a good, competitive game of football and was the perfect preparation for our first game of the season at Swindon.’
Myers believes the EFL Trophy offers our young players a unique opportunity to experience the senior game and he is looking forward to watching his team take on senior opponents in a competitive setting.
‘This is the best part of the programme for this age group,’ he continued. ‘We’ve applied ourselves really well in the competition over the past two years and it just shows the players what’s required. Teams will mix up their game and you can’t get a better education as a young player than coming up against that. You can see in recent years how the players who have been involved for us have improved and adapted.
‘We know Swindon have had a change of manager and they’ve shown again that they want to play. Their result at the weekend against Scunthorpe proved they’re good on the counter-attack, they like to get the ball down but they also have the ability to play forward with quality as well.
‘I remember watching the game last year – it was close and cagey up until we scored and then we played some really good stuff after that and won 4-0. We’re expecting a similar challenge and hopefully we can produce a similar performance.’
Our development squad have twice faced Swindon in the competition in recent years, recording a win last term and falling to defeat in 2016.
It was a trip to the County Ground that opened the campaign for our youngsters last season. Joe Edwards’s side headed west in the first week of August and recorded a comprehensive 4-0 victory over a team managed by Phil Brown, with our own Brown - Charlie - at the double alongside goals from Charly Musonda and Ike Ugbo.
Back in September 2016, a young Chelsea side managed by Adi Viveash lost 2-1 in our first-ever outing in the senior competition. Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount featured for the Blues, whose solitary goal came courtesy of Mukhtar Ali.
How to watch
Supporters wishing to attend can purchase tickets on the door at the ground priced at just £8 for adults, £5 for concessions (over-65s, students and under-18s) and £2 for under-11s. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.
CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS ON HOW YOU CAN WATCH OUR YOUNGSTERS AT STAMFORD BRIDGE - TICKETS FOR £5 AND CONCESSIONS GO FREE!