We simmed a Chelsea Academy XI on Football Manager to see if ‘La Cobham’ really is the best

By Ben Green

We simmed a Chelsea Academy XI on Football Manager to see if 'La Cobham' really is the best

Published: 12:09, 24 March 2022 | Updated: 16:36, 12 October 2023

Chelsea has been fertile ground for homegrown talent in recent years, with Cobham proving an academy up there with the very best in the sport.

Mason Mount is the current poster boy of Chelsea’s academy, but Reece James, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Andreas Christensen, Trevoh Chalobah and Ruben Loftus-Cheek have all made a tangible impression on the first-team in recent seasons.

Then you have those currently making a name for themselves away from the club but still technically on the books. Conor Gallagher and Armando Broja have both starred out on loan, and there is now a genuine conversation about first-team progression next term.

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And of course you have those that flown the nest (forcefully, or of their own volition) but have subsequently spread their wings away from the Bridge, not least Declan Rice, Fikayo Tomori, Tammy Abraham, Marc Guehi, Tariq Lamptey and Tino Livramento — among many others.

Chelsea, as we know, have no inhibitions when it comes to spending big, but had they just looked within rather than coveting that marquee acquisition, then they may have been able to save a few bob.

So, move aside La Masia, sit down Ajax, see you later Santos, because there’s a new academy talent factory producing homegrown stars at an eye-blinking rate.

With that, we’ve decided to put ‘La Cobham’ to the test. In another world, Chelsea would have their own cantera policy of playing academy graduates exclusively, and we wanted to see how they would get on. Cue a Football Manager sim…

The Squad

Goalkeepers: *Edouard Mendy, *Kepa Arrizabalaga, Neil Etheridge, Jamal Blackman

*We tried with Chelsea’s academy goalkeepers, but as it turns out, the position is pretty important on FM22. So as a caveat, we’ve let them keep Mendy and Kepa.

Defenders: Fikayo Tomori, Reece James, Andreas Christensen, Trevoh Chalobah, Nathan Ake, Ryan Bertrand, Tariq Lamptey, Tino Livramento, Marc Guehi, Jake Clarke-Salter, Chris Mepham, Ian Maatsen, Dujon Sterling.

Midfielders: Mason Mount, Declan Rice, Conor Gallagher, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Billy Gilmour, Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Lewis Baker, Harvey Vale, Tino Anjorin.

Forwards: Tammy Abraham, Jeremie Boga, Armando Broja, Bertrand Traore.

The Tactics

True to form, Thomas Tuchel started with a back-three set-up, though described as a 5-2-2-1 on Football Manager, with Ryan Bertrand and Callum Hudson-Odoi his preferred wing-backs of choice for much of the opening campaign. The German was clearly seeking an experienced-youthful combo to balance his tactical broth.

In defence, Andreas Christensen and Trevoh Chalobah represent a familiar looking backline, while Fikayo Tomori came in at the heart of Tuchel’s back-three, a wise move from the Chelsea boss when you consider the current Milan centre-back is among the ‘cleanest’ tacklers in Europe this season.

Further forward, Declan Rice partners Conor Gallagher in an industrious midfield partnership that should more than make up for the absence of N’Golo Kante, given both players are renowned for their athleticism, with Jack Wilshere even describing the former as a ‘physical freak’ during their time together at West Ham.

Mason Mount sits ahead and will no doubt have carte blanche to operate more freely, with Rice and Gallagher mopping up behind him, while Jeremie Boga, who recently joined Atalanta, plays slightly ahead of the England man, dovetailing Roma’s in-form marksman Tammy Abraham up top.

Season One

Premier League finish: 5th

Champions League finish: Last-16

FA Cup finish: Fifth Round

League Cup finish: Quarter-final

It was a valiant effort in the Premier League but the Blues were just pipped to fourth by Manchester United, dropping one too many points across the campaign. Rice’s ‘urgency’ to be playing Champions League football would, therefore, be short-lived. In the cup competitions, there was further frustration. A penalty shootout loss to Man City in the League Cup quarter-final was certainly no embarrassment, nor too was a Champions League last-16 exit to Bayern Munich, but a Fifth Round FA Cup elimination by London rivals Arsenal would no doubt have stung.

Top goalscorer: Tammy Abraham (29)

Most completed passes: Declan Rice (3,385)

Most tackles won: Reece James (95)

Tammy Abraham dominated the final third for Chelsea, netting 29 goals across all competitions and outperforming his xG (expected goals) by over double (14.89). Reece James meanwhile topped the charts for tackles won despite tussling with Hudson-Odoi for the starting berth at right-wing-back. Naturally, he managed a club-high 85 fouls in all competitions, but despite that number, he collected just two yellow cards. Declan Rice, once described by former West Ham boss Slaven Bilic as a “metronome”, came out on top for completed passes, managing 3,385 as Chelsea’s tempo-setter.

Season Two

Premier League finish: 7th

Europa League finish: Last-16

FA Cup finish: Semi-final

League Cup finish: Quarter-final

Having failed to secure Champions League football, Tuchel was sent packing and in came Zinedine Zidane, who naturally switched up the formation to a flat back-four. The tactical tweak failed to pay dividends as the Blues dropped down to seventh in the Premier League table, securing Europa Conference League football in the process, and exited the Europa League at the last-16 stage, coming up short against Red Bull Salzburg. Leicester City knocked them out of the League Cup in the quarters again, while they managed a day out at Wembley as Zidane masterminded an FA Cup semi-final appearance, losing to Man City, though.

Top goalscorer: Tammy Abraham (26)

Most completed passes: Declan Rice (3,212)

Most tackles won: Tariq Lamptey (95)

Abraham once again came up trumps in the scoring charts, though was unable to improve upon his tally of 29 from 2021/22. Rice was again the pace-setter in midfield, while Tariq Lamptey matched James’ 95 succesful tackles from that opening season as Zidane sought a more youthful and vibrant full-back partnership. The diminutive pace-merchant displaced Bertrand, while Chalobah moved upfield to sit at the base of a midfield three, with Nathan Ake coming in as a natural left-footer at centre-back alongside Tomori. Mendy sustained a long-term injury that season, so Kepa was an enforced personnel tweak from Zidane.

Season Three

Premier League finish: 5th

Europa Conference League finish: Quarter-final

FA Cup finish: Third Round

League Cup finish: Third Round

Despite an improved league finish, Chelsea were largely diabolical in cup competitions, failing to make it past the third rounds of their domestic ones, and coming up short in the Europa Conference League quarter-finals to AEK Athens. That left the board no choice but to get rid of Zidane and instal Head Of Youth Development and lifelong Chelsea fan Neil Bath in the hot-seat on an interim basis.

Top goalscorer: Tammy Abraham (20)

Most completed passes: Declan Rice (3,154)

Most tackles won: Tariq Lamptey (88)

It’s been a steep decline for Abraham in the scoring department, just about making the 20-goal mark, with Armando Broja starting to come through and managing 13 goals, no doubt an influence of Bath’s mid-season appointment. Rice and Lamptey further consolidated their positions as Chelsea’s pass grandmaster and their tackling expert respectively, though Tomori finished the season with a 91% tackling success rate, which echoes his real-life numbers this season.

Season Five

Premier League finish: 5th

Europa Conference League finish: Winners

FA Cup finish: Fourth Round

League Cup finish: Third Round

Season Four was pretty uneventful, with the Blues finishing seventh in what turned out to be Max Allegri’s debut season in the dugout, but Season Five proved a breakthrough moment for the club’s academy XI, in terms of silverware that is. A fifth-placed finish in the Premier League secured them Europa League football, but they needn’t have bothered as they secured a Europa Conference League triumph at the expense of Rangers, following in the footsteps of Spurs and West Ham…

Top goalscorer: Tammy Abraham (30)

Most completed passes: Andreas Christensen (3,248)

Most tackles won: Tariq Lamptey (97)

Abraham naturally notched more goals as Chelsea progressed in Europe, but he finished just one above current 18-year-old Jude Soonsup-Bell, who broke into the first team at an accelerating rate under Allegri. The current England U19 international made his debut for Chelsea, in real life, in December’s League Cup win over Brentford. Wait a few years, and the teenager could be smashing in the goals. Allegri also made the decision to convert Christensen into a central midfielder…

So it took five seasons for Chelsea to win their first piece of major silverware. It isn’t quite the Champions League, the Premier League, or even the FA Cup, but a European win of any capacity with a team strictly comprised of ‘your own’ is a remarkable achievement for a club in the modern era.