Academy season review Part 3: NextGen Series
Unusually, this season there were 2 cups up for grabs for the academy this season. That is because Chelsea had decided to enter the NextGen series, a Champions League style competition with the best academies across Europe battling it out. An independent competition not run by UEFA, it was certainly a very interesting competition for us to enter.
In the group stages, Chelsea were drawn against Ajax, CSKA Moscow and Molde. Initially it seemed that Chelsea would not take this competition very seriously, the games were all supposed to be played in a stadium and would all be televised. That immediately went out of the window with the home games being played at Cobham and not a single game was televised.
In the group stages, there was very little consistency from the team selection and results were mixed – 2 draws against Ajax, a win and a loss against CSKA and a win and a draw against Molde. The highlight game of the group stage was this 6 – 0 home win over Molde:
Things very quickly got very exciting in the knock out stages, with Chelsea being drawn against Champions League nemesis, Barcelona. From this point out, the competition took a real level of seriousness and the best 11 was played and we would give the competition a real good go. The game against Barcelona would be a real test for us – how do we compare against the famous La Masia academy of Barcelona? The answer was that we were more than a match for them, with a very even game until Chelsea going down to 10 men. Chelsea were the ones to get their noses in front but then had to try and hang on with 10 men only to nick the winner in the last seconds of the game. Sound familiar?
Next up was Juventus and the game was to be probably the best performance of the season at academy level as we dispatched Juventus comfortably 4 – 1 with some absolutely cracking goals scored. Following that game it was the semi finals. The semi finals and the final were to be played over a weekend at Lake Como in Italy; unfortunately the pitch turned out to be a real mess but we had a game against Arsenal to deal with and it was a real battle. With both teams enjoying periods of dominance, the game was finally decided in extra time and Chelsea ran out 4 – 3 winners.
The final would be against more English opposition – Aston Villa, who have a very good academy would be the opponents. In the end it was a game of missed chances and wasted opportunity. Chelsea were massively dominant in the first half but could not take their chances and it would prove costly as a penalty to Villa in the second half and then a second was enough to grab the win. It was disappointment for the young blues who put in some outstanding performances in this competition but just did not do enough in the final game.
The future of this competition is that Chelsea will be playing in it again next season. It will be interesting to see how seriously we take it, given that there is a second Champions League competition we will be competing in next season, this one run by UEFA.
With the U18′s, U21′s, NextGen, Champions League, FA Youth cup and loans, it will be very difficult to compete in all. The experience of playing against the best in Europe at this age group is something that we should be very positive about and I hope we go again and look to win it this time, having had so much disappointment at the end this season.