Michy Batshuayi scored a brace in what is becoming an annual tradition of stacking a Chelsea U23 side with experienced Premier League players and one who is well over 23.
Just over a one year ago – one year and 15 days to be exact – Michy Batshuayi played for Chelsea’s U23 side. Lining up alongside him that day were U23 players such as Fikayo Tomori, Fankaty Dabo and Mason Mount.
Also on the pitch were Cesc Fabregas, Kurt Zouma, John Terry and Eduardo. The average age of those last two at the time was 35 years old.
On Wednesday, Batshuayi returned to the development side. This time he did not have quite the senior-level firepower or experience as last season, but Kenedy, Charly Musonda and – once again – Eduardo (now 35 years old himself) joined him in the starting XI.
Batshuayi scored twice, Musonda scored once and the U23 side’s leading scorer Callum Hudson-Odoi brought the Blues to a 4-0 victory over MK Dons in the Checkatrade Trophy.
The Dons made seven changes to their League One side from the weekend, presumably playing their young and inexperienced players while the Blues went in the other direction.
Batshuayi and Kenedy each went the full 90 minutes. For Batshuayi, this shows that he is back to full fitness after his injury and is now working towards Premier League match readiness. He played nine minutes against Atletico Madrid on Tuesday and then a complete game 24 hours later.
This is a similar progression as Victor Moses’, who had 15 minutes against Swansea City to shake off the post-injury rust before going the distance against Newcastle United. Batshuayi is unlikely to play a complete game for the first team except perhaps in the Carabao Cup mid-month, so the U23’s provided the best opportunity to sharpen and assess him.
For Kenedy, this game could signify one of two things. Or neither. Who ever really knows where Kenedy stands?
The most optimistic reading is Antonio Conte realizes he can not afford to marginalize Kenedy because he has no natural left-footed back-up for Marcos Alonso.
Conte tried Davide Zappacosta as left wing-back against Atletico, and he showed that he is an option but not a solution. Chelsea have seven more games until the January transfer window opens. Even then, the odds of finding an immediate solution for left wing-back are minimal: Alex Sandro or bust.
Similar to Diego Costa last season, Conte may have to put everything else aside and be rawly pragmatic on matters of Kenedy. If Marcos Alonso is injured or absolutely needs a rest, Kenedy must be ready to go. Ninety minutes in the Checkatrade Trophy may be his best chance to gain match readiness before the call goes out for the real thing.
The other possibility is Kenedy spent 90 minutes in the shop window ahead of the winter transfer season. This could have been Conte’s and the club’s way of telling the Brazilian he should not expect anything more out of his time with the first team squad.
The game told the market that Kenedy is up for sale or loan next month, and gave them a chance to see what sort of shape he is in.
At the time of last season’s top-heavy PL2 game, prospects looked bleak for Cesc Fabregas. Fabregas was coming off an injury and was slated to be sold.
Two weeks after playing with the U23s, though, he had his re-emergence game against Manchester City, in which he had one assist in a commanding 90 minutes.
Batshuayi’s season did not exactly take off after the November PL2 game. However, this time around he was there as part of post-injury return-to-play, rather than general conditioning and learning.
If Antonio Conte continues to rotate throughout the holiday period and the four competitions of the new year, the 2017 seniors’ day at the PL2 may be a milestone for Batshuayi as well.