AFC Bournemouth’s development squad will be hoping to secure home advantage in the last 16 of the Premier League Cup when they host Norwich City in their final group game on Saturday.
The Cherries host the Canaries at Wimborne Town's New Cuthbury with first place in Group C up for grabs for both teams (noon kick-off).
Alan Connell's team are currently top, three points ahead of Norwich and with a superior goal difference of plus six.
Here afcb.co.uk tells you everything you need to know about the Premier League Cup.
WHAT IS THE PREMIER LEAGUE CUP?
The Premier League Cup was introduced in 2013/14 to enhance the competitiveness of the Professional Development Phase calendar with a knockout competition alongside a regular league programme.
It is in the style of the Champions League with 32 clubs split into eight groups of four. Teams play each other home and away with the top two in each group advancing to the knockout stage.
Teams finishing top of their group will have home advantage in the last 16, while the runners-up will be away.
From the last 16 onwards, all games are one-off knockout ties which can go to extra-time and penalties if they are not settled over 90 minutes.
It is contested between under-21 teams with each side allowed five over-age outfield players and one over-age goalkeeper.
Previous winners: Brentford (2022/23), West Brom (2021/22), Everton (2018/19), Aston Villa (2017/18), Swansea City (2016/17), West Ham United (2015/16), Southampton (2014/15) Reading (2013/14). In 2020/21, the Premier League Cup did not take place and the previous season it did not finish due to the curtailment of the season.
HOW HAVE THE CHERRIES FARED IN THE COMPETITION?
In their first two seasons in the competition, they finished their group as runners-up and were knocked out in the last 16 by Newcastle (2017/18) and Nottingham Forest (2018/19).
In 2019/20, the Cherries topped their group and were due to host Wigan Athletic in the last 16 before the competition was curtailed due to the pandemic. It did not take place in 2020/21.
In 2021/22, the Cherries and Arsenal finished Group A locked on eight points and with the same goal difference. The Gunners qualified as runners-up having scored more goals than the Cherries.
Last season, the Cherries won their first two group games but finished bottom after losing their next four.
HOW ARE THE CHERRIES DOING IN THE PREMIER LEAGUE CUP THIS SEASON?
Connell’s team top Group C and are unbeaten in the competition this season having won four and drawn one of their five games. The other two teams in the group are Charlton and Wolves.
Dan Adu-Adjei and Balraj Landa both scored twice as the Cherries kicked-off their campaign with a 4-0 win over Charlton Athletic at Dartford’s Princes Park in September.
Following a 0-0 draw against Wolves at AFC Telford’s New Bucks Head in October, the Cherries registered an impressive 3-2 win over Norwich City at the Canaries’ Lotus Training Centre in November.
Early goals from Dom Sadi and Nathan Moriah-Welsh were cancelled out by Joe Duffy’s quickfire double before Adu-Adjei popped up with the winner 17 minutes from time.
Arguably the Cherries’ best performance in the competition this season saw them register an impressive 5-1 victory over Wolves at Eastleigh’s Silverlake Stadium last month.
Sadi netted twice and was joined on the scoresheet by Adu-Adjei, under-18s Ash Clarke and Moriah-Welsh on his final appearance before joining Scottish Premiership outfit Hibernian.
And in their penultimate group game six days ago, Adu-Adjei’s double, coupled with goals from Sadi and Landa, saw the Cherries run out comfortable 4-0 winners over Charlton Athletic at New Cuthbury.
Wolves and Norwich both have category one academy status, while the Cherries and Charlton are both category two.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN THE COMPETITION?
The next stage of the competition is the knockout phase when the group winners and runners-up will do battle for a place in the quarter-finals.
For the Cherries and the Canaries, all eyes will be on Group D which includes Chelsea, Leeds United, Colchester United and Luton Town.
Colchester and Luton are unable to qualify as Chelsea top the group with 15 points and Leeds are second with nine, leaving them well clear.
Chelsea’s final group game sees them host Leeds at Kingsmeadow tonight (Friday), while the Yorkshire outfit face Luton at St Albans’ Clarence Park on 12th February.
To finish top, Leeds would need to beat both the Blues and the Hatters and overturn a seven-goal swing in goal difference.
The winners of Group C host the runners-up of Group D and the winners of Group D entertain the runners-up of Group C.
THE CHERRIES’ CURRENT FORM
Defeat by Millwall at New Cuthbury on Tuesday brought to an end the Cherries’ 100 per cent winning start to 2024.
They kicked off the year with back-to-back victories over Bristol City and Cardiff City in the Professional Development League.
And the Cherries then ensured qualification to the knockout stage of the Premier League Cup by beating Wolves and Charlton Athletic.
However, although under-18 striker Jonny Stuttle netted twice against Millwall, the Lions ran out 3-2 winners after scoring three quickfire goals either side of half-time.
Defeat by Ipswich Town at Vitality Stadium in their final game of 2023 ended an impressive 12-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
The sequence, which stretched back to the middle of September, included no fewer than ten victories and two draws.
As well as topping their Premier League Cup group, the Cherries are also level on points with QPR at the summit of Group South in the Professional Development League.
Striker Adu-Adjei leads the goalscoring charts with 19, while Sadi has eight and Landa seven.
THE BOSS’S PRE-MATCH THOUGHTS
Previewing the visit of the Canaries, development squad manager Connell told afcb.co.uk: “We picked up injuries against Charlton in the Premier League Cup last Saturday, we’ve got players with the first team and others have gone on loan. It’s about trying to get the balance right for everyone.
“Norwich is going to be another tough game and the boys have given a lot in the past few days with the two performances against Charlton and Millwall and are going to have to do it again on Saturday.
“Norwich are an extremely talented team as we found out at their place earlier in the season when we had a really competitive game against them.
“We want to try to finish the job and top the group. We’re going to have to be as committed and dynamic as our performance was against Millwall but probably have a little more quality as well to try to get over the line.”
Norwich City, awarded category one academy status 11 years ago, are currently 13th in Premier League 2.
They are managed by former Wales international Alan Neilson, who is the professional development phase coach at Carrow Road.
Their last league match was a 4-2 defeat by Manchester United at Old Trafford last Saturday where Ken Aboh (pictured above) and Adian Manning scored.
Dan Ogwuru and Joe Duffy were on target as the Canaries triumphed 2-1 against Dereham Town in the Norfolk Senior Cup in midweek.
In the Premier League Cup, the Canaries are second in Group C having beaten Charlton twice, triumphed over and drawn with Wolves and lost to the Cherries.
Aboh and Harry Brooke were on target as they kicked off their campaign with a 2-2 draw against Wolves before Aboh, Manning, Kellen Fisher, Pedro Lima and Duffy netted in a 5-0 win at Charlton.
Duffy scored both goals in their 3-2 defeat by the Cherries in November with Dom Sadi, Nathan Moriah-Welsh and Dan Adu-Adjei on target for Alan Connell’s team.
Duffy bagged the only goal in their 1-0 victory at Wolves before Aboh’s double and goals from Errol Mundle-Smith and Elliot Myles saw them run out 4-2 victors over Charlton.
Norwich’s goalscorers in the PLC: Ken Aboh 4, Joe Duffy 4, Errol Mundle-Smith 1, Elliot Myles 1, Adian Manning 1, Kellen Fisher 1, Pedro Lima 1, Harry Brooke 1.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO WATCH THE GAME?
Entry to all AFC Bournemouth development squad games at Wimborne Town’s hospitable New Cuthbury headquarters is free to all supporters and tickets are not required.
The stadium is situated just off the B3073 about a mile-and-a-half from the Canford Bottom roundabout. The post code is BH21 2BW and ample parking is available, which is also free.