After a 36-game season that stretched from Swindon and Yeovil to Sweden and Switzerland, development squad manager Joe Edwards sat down with the official Chelsea website to reflect on the key moments following a mid-table finish in Premier League 2, another exciting run to the knockout stages in the senior Checkatrade Trophy and a European campaign that went all the way to the final once again.
Edwards took charge of the oldest Academy age group for the second season and recorded another strong term with one of the youngest sides in the league. Seven of our eight highest appearance-makers in 2017/18 departed in the summer, two of them straight on loan into the Championship, so the Blues had to grow up quickly against opponents older and wiser.
Here, Edwards picks his highlights of the 2018/19 campaign…
‘It has to be the Barcelona game, for so many reasons,’ says the 32-year-old, reflecting on our progress in the Under-19 UEFA Youth League competition. ‘They are renowned for being one of the top academies in the world, they always have top teams and outstanding young players so any time you face them in a semi-final is going to be a big moment. It was a defining moment for us last season and unfortunately in a negative way so there was a lot on it for us.
‘When the game started, Barcelona were moving the ball at an incredible tempo and that could have easily scared a few of our players but we took our time to get into the game. The second half was one of our best performances of the season and to do it at an important time, against such a strong opponent on such a big stage, was definitely a highlight of our season.’
VICTORY OVER BARCELONA ON PENALTIES IN THE UYL SEMI-FINALS WAS A STANDOUT MOMENT OF THE SEASON FOR EDWARDS
Edwards also looks back fondly on our run to the last-16 in the Checkatrade Trophy, a journey that took in victories over the senior sides of Swindon Town, Plymouth Argyle and AFC Wimbledon.
‘The Checkatrade Trophy has almost become the new benchmark in academy football and we had some great moments in the competition again this season,’ he continues. ‘If you look at this year’s group, a lot of them were playing Under-18s football a year ago so they had a massive jump from the latter stages of the FA Youth Cup in April to playing against League One teams in August and September.
‘Beating Swindon 4-0 and Plymouth 5-0 in the group stage was fantastic but the standout moment in this competition was the AFC Wimbledon game at Stamford Bridge. It got a bit tasty once they saw we were the better team and a few nasty tackles went flying in so then you have to look for the other side of the game – can you look after yourself, compete and stick together, as well as show your quality with the ball. That was a night where we did a bit of everything and I was really proud of the players for that.’
While the young Blues enjoyed cup progress, the league campaign was a far rockier experience and it took until December for them to pick up their first home victory in PL2. That proved one of just two wins at Aldershot all season and Edwards admits the struggle to find home comforts put a particular strain on the group.HOME FORM WAS INCONSISTENT THROUGHOUT THE SEASON BUT STAMFORD BRIDGE DID HOST ONE SPECIAL NIGHT IN THE CHECKATRADE TROPHY FOR OUR YOUNGSTERS
‘A massive theme for us this season has been the contrast in form and results at home compared to away,’ he explains. ‘Our home form was hard to comprehend and it was really difficult at times because it lasted the whole season. We addressed it several times, tried to come up with different strategies around how we prepared before the game, the environment around the team on the night, even how we set up on the pitch. We did get a couple of big results at Aldershot against West Ham and Man City but overall our form was poor and it’s a strange one that even now I can’t put my finger on.
‘It was disappointing because when you alternate between playing at home and away in Premier League 2, that really stopped us getting any consistency or momentum together. Our finishing position and points total were better than last season but those games at home ultimately cost us a place near the top of the league.’
‘Two performances that stand out for me both came on the road. Blackburn in our first away game of the season was a real strong performance – we had the likes of Callum [Hudson-Odoi] and Ethan [Ampadu] with us that night but we still looked very much like a team. The intensity and football we played was excellent, the mentality of the group was spot on and the result was emphatic [3-0].LUKE MCCORMICK SCORED AT BLACKBURN, A PERFORMANCE EDWARDS FEELS WAS ONE OF THE SEASON’S BEST
‘Liverpool away towards the end of the season is the other standout, even though we lost the game, because the football in the first half was some of the best we’ve played all season.’
Goal of the season
‘There were a couple of individual strikes from Conor Gallagher, away at Arsenal and at home against Monaco, but the Liverpool goal is my favourite because it showed exactly what we want the game to look like. There were 20-odd passes in the build-up against a strong Liverpool team that were pressing us a lot. We took them all over the pitch, then had the skill in the box from Tariq Lamptey and the finish from Conor.’