BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - MAY 09: Nathaniel Chalobah captain of Chelsea holds the trophy aloft with team mates after victory against Blackburn Rovers during the FA Youth Cup Final 2nd leg match between Blackburn Rovers U18's and Chelsea U18's at Ewood park on May 9, 2012 in Blackburn, England. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Chelsea have a meaningless game on Sunday. When I say that, I mean it honestly has no meaning whatsoever. Win, we finish 6th. Lose, we finish 6th. Draw...you guessed it. This is a pretty rare thing for Chelsea fans recently, as most points are vital to a team that expects to challenge for the title every single year.
The club also has the opposite kind of game coming up 6 days later. The Champions League final would arguably be the biggest game in the history of the club to begin with, but with the added dimension of needing a win to qualify for next years tournament it suddenly cements itself alone at the top. With injury questions and suspension problems already looming large for the Munich showdown, Chelsea really can't afford another injury to a player that they're planning on starting for the final.
With that in mind, I think most people fully expect to see the youngsters struggling to break through to the first team making a debut in Chelsea blue. Romelu Lukaku, Oriol Romeu, Sam Hutchinson, Patrick Bamford, Lucas Piazon, Nathaniel Chalobah, Todd Kane, and Ryan Bertrand are all probably in the discussion as players who can use some first team minutes. That said, I'd like to plead with everyone for a little bit of patience in this regard.
The idea behind blooding a few of these youngsters in a game like this is really two-fold. We want to give these kids a chance against Premier League competition (even if they are being relegated), so getting them on the pitch against Blackburn is a very welcome opportunity to do just that. They'll likely not be too out of place against Blackburn individually, so we'll likely get to see their potential in small flashes.
We also want to bear in mind that this is an opportunity to get these kids some minutes playing with top class professionals. Playing all of the nine players I've listed above would be great in terms of getting them minutes, but it would eliminate any chance to learn from being on the pitch with the likes of Terry, Ivanovic, Ferreira, and Essien. While the kids will gain valuable experience playing against Premier League opposition, they'll gain just as much doing so alongside Chelsea quality teammates. It's as much about who they play with as it is about who they play against.
As Sunday's game rolls around, I'm sure we'll all be looking to see some of the kids get some minutes on the pitch. I'd caution you to be patient though, as playing a glorified youth team without any of the fringe players on the squad makes little to no sense in that the kids will get far less out of it than they otherwise might. What I really hope we see is a mixed squad, with 3-4 of these youngsters getting a start (maybe Lukaku, Romeu, Bert, and one other), and some of the 18 year olds on the bench to potentially be given a brief cameo at the end of the match. This would get some youngsters involved, but still ensure that they have quality players around them that can help calm their nerves and direct traffic a bit.
We have a lot of young talent on the verge of breaking through to the first team, but most of them are currently away on a loan assignment. The majority of the kids in contention for Sunday's game will be looking at a loan or two before they are anywhere close to first team material. Several will undoubtedly start that process as soon as next season. When the lineup comes out on Sunday, please keep that in mind. Don't moan that Chelsea never give the youth a chance, as throwing a bunch of 18 year olds out on the pitch together doesn't do them much more good than playing them in the reserves. Be happy if any are involved, but don't set your expectations too high. These kids are still raw, a few minutes of garbage time play are not going to significantly speed up their development.