Walsall v Chelsea U21s: Saddlers looking to defy the odds
Walsall manager Darrell Clarke is looking for his side to defy the odds when they take on Chelsea’s ‘world class’ youngsters.
The Saddlers face an exit from their final cup competition if they fail to overcome Chelsea U21’s tonight, just three days after their FA Cup exit at the hands of League One Oxford.
With several of Chelsea’s academy products now stepping up to their first team, Clarke faces a somewhat unknown side in the first knockout round of the EFL Trophy.
But Clarke is aware of the danger they pose as his side aim to progress in the competition.
“There’s probably around 100 pros at that football club,” he joked.
“We try to win every game, that’s what we do.
“They’re top of their league as well.
“It’ll be a tough game but we’ll give it our best shot – we look forward to it.
“We want to win every game we play, whatever competition it is.
“We have to dust ourselves down quickly and go ahead on Tuesday.
“Let’s put it this way, Chelsea’s U21’s is probably about 10 times my playing budget. So that tells you, they have world class players at a younger level.
“You can see why England in the lower levels are doing so well.
“Chelsea have top class players and produce from a very early age.
“We know it’s going to be difficult, we know they’ll have plenty possession of the ball as well.
“But we have to approach it in the right manner and find a way to win the game.”
The money that is awarded to each team as they progress through the competition has been a welcome bonus for Clarke and Walsall, with the money often contributing to funds for upcoming transfer windows. “We managed to get through the group stages and got a bit of money to help,” Clarke added.
“It all helps when you spend within your means, which we do.
“Which is a credit to the football club, the chairman and the people behind the scenes. That’s what we do, we’re a community club.
“Tweaking in the windows when they come along to eventually get a winning mentality and a winning side through the ranks.”
The EFL Trophy has come under criticism from fans, with low attendances plaguing fixtures throughout the competition. But Walsall captain James Clarke is looking for his side to overcome the ‘strange’ atmosphere and start dreaming of a Wembley final.
“These games are strange, there’s not much of an atmosphere,” he said.
“We don’t really know much about the U21 sides but you know they come from an academy set up so you know the sort of style they’re going to play and that they’ll have good pedigree.
“I’ve never played at Wembley and not many players get to play at Wembley in their career so it’s a great ticket to get yourselves there.”