West Ham United Under-23s lead coach Dmitri Halajko believes his side’s opening league fixture of 2020/21 perfectly encapsulates why his side fought so hard for promotion last season.
The young Hammers, who won Premier League 2 Division 2 last time around with an unbeaten league record, have been handed the toughest test of all in their first game of the new campaign: an away trip to face last season’s Division 1 champions, Chelsea.
The Blues’ development squad were themselves were unbeaten in their last Premier League 2 season and, like Halajko’s team, finished three points clear of their closest rivals, both clubs ultimately being awarded their respective titles on a points-per-game settlement.
Following an impressive pre-season and opening victory in the EFL Trophy, Halajko has reiterated that difficult games are often the most prosperous in terms of young players’ development, expecting Monday afternoon’s test at Kingsmeadow to prove no different.
“It’s why we wanted to try and get promoted: to play against the big teams in the big games,” Halajko explained.
“In that division for me, there’s probably no bigger or better other team at youth development in Under-23s football than Chelsea. They really are a powerhouse at that level, so we’re really looking forward to going and testing ourselves against that.
“We won’t be scared, we’ll be relishing it – we can’t wait to play and see what we can do against them, and we’ll try to take the game to them.”
The Irons got off to an excellent start to their competitive 2020/21 season on Tuesday afternoon, beating League Two side Southend United 3-1 at Roots Hall to garner three valuable points from their opening EFL Trophy group stage game.
The way we dominated the second half against Southend in terms of dominating the ball was impressive. If you can dominate a game like that in the EFL Trophy or Premier League 2 Division 1, that’s a really good achievement
West Ham’s impressively mature and controlled performance against vastly more experienced opposition was capped by three outstanding goals: screamers from both the left and right foot of Ademipo Odubeko, and a first-time volleyed lob from captain Conor Coventry.
In terms of both quality of performance and quality of goal, Halajko is hoping to see more of the same in Monday’s encounter.
He joked: “I think certainly the goals we saw on Tuesday evening, it’d be nice to see some more of those in any game!
“I think the way we dominated the second half against Southend in terms of dominating the ball was impressive. If you can dominate a game like that in the EFL Trophy or Premier League 2 Division 1, that’s a really good achievement.
“Any game where you have the majority of the ball, have the chances and threaten their goal, is a job well done.”
Following the trip to Chelsea, West Ham U23s visit Tottenham Hotspur on Friday afternoon for their second London derby in the space of five days, before travelling to Southampton the following week.
“They’re away games to start, but with those London derbies which the lads will love,” Halajko reflected.
“I’m sure they’ll know quite a few of the boys they’re playing against and they’ll want to get one over on them, so they’re good games, and the type of games we want.
“They’ll be tough, competitive. They’re coming thick and fast, the games, so to have our first three like that is really exciting for everyone.”
West Ham United Under-23s take on Chelsea Under-23s on Monday 14 September in a behind-closed-doors fixture at Kingsmeadow. Kick-off is at 1pm; you can follow all the action with our live blog on whufc.com from mid-day.
Please note that all Academy fixtures will be played behind closed doors until further notice. Only key personnel will be admitted on site and matches will be played without supporters present, in line with safety guidelines and social distancing measures still in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.