Friday 16 August 2013
The new-look Barclays U18 Premier League kicks off this weekend with 22 clubs vying to win the title that Fulham won in the inaugural 2012/13 season of the competition.
The clubs who earned the ‘Category One’ status in the Elite Player Performance Plan have been split in to two separate regional groups, north and south, with every team playing their regional group opposition home and away.
They will also gain the experience of travelling the country to compete against the best academy teams in England as they play every team from the opposite regional group home or away. The matches alternate throughout the season, giving each side 31 matches to qualify for the semi-finals of the competition.
Fulham were the champions of the inaugural Barclays U18 Premier League last season, after the Premier Academy League was replaced as part of the Premier League’s continued investment in youth development.
The Cottagers produced an impressive display in the final at Craven Cottage, beating Reading 3-0. Steve Wigley’s side will begin their title defence at home to Stoke City at Motspur Park. The campaign begins on Friday at 11am when Arsenal take on Liverpool at London Colney. The other 10 fixtures in the opening matchweek will be played on Saturday.
On the opening weekend, Southampton and Everton, who both narrowly missed out on the semi-finals last season, will face each other at Southampton’s Staplewood training ground.
Saints U18s manager Jason Dodd anticipates a tough test against the Toffees, but believes some of his players have benefitted from playing with the club’s U21 side.
Dodd told the club’s website: “We’re at Staplewood where the pitch is just amazing, so we’re really looking forward to it, though Everton are very strong.
“This week, we had three of our boys playing in the Development Squad under Martin Hunter, who says they’re doing fantastic so it means that other young boys have got to step up to the mark now.
“We know it’s going to be tough, but they’ve worked really hard so far, and we need them to carry that work with them into the game on Saturday.”
Aston Villa’s Academy Chief Bryan Jones has outlined a policy of fielding a young side in a bid to boost their development. He told the club’s website: "The aim is not to win these competitions, the aim is to develop young players and continue that successful pathway into our first team.
"The manager [Paul Lambert] has already informed us that he wants to develop young players as quickly as possible and the academy has an even more vital role in achieving this target."
Villa begin the U18 season with a home tie against Newcastle United.
You can keep up to date with the latest developments in the Barclays U18 Premier League and U18 Professional Development League 2 on the Premier League’s Twitter account, via #BU18PL.
Friday 16 August
Arsenal v Liverpool, London Colney, 11am
Saturday 17 August
Aston Villa v Newcastle United, Bodymoor Heath, 11am
Chelsea v Sunderland, Cobham, 11.30am
Fulham v Stoke City, Motspur Park, 1pm
Leicester City v Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leicester FC Academy, 11am
Norwich City v Blackburn Rovers, Colney Training Centre, 10.30am
Reading v Bolton Wanderers, Hogwood Park, 11am
Southampton v Everton, Staplewood Training Ground, 11am
Tottenham Hotspur v Middlesbrough, Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre, Midday
West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City, WBAFC Training Ground, 11am
West Ham United v Manchester United, Little Heath Sports Ground, 11am