This Thursday sees Chelsea return to Stamford Bridge for an FA Youth Cup tie for the first time since 2003, when they suffered a defeat to Aston Villa that could encapsulate their fortunes in the competition in recent years. However, going into a Fifth Round without Manchester United and Arsenal, and in good form, The Blues hope they can make a real go at winning the prestigious trophy for the first time in nearly 50 years.
It’s largely been a good season so far for Chelsea’s Under 18s. They currently sit 5th in Group A with 8 wins from 16 games and matches in hand to jump as high as second. They’ve also been impressive in the Cup, first squeaking past Stevenage 1-0 before Christmas, and then dispatching Shrewsbury 4-0 a fortnight ago. England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce was present at the 4th round victory at Griffin Park, and whilst a place in his squad might be a bit too soon for some of the team, ‘Psycho’ will no doubt have been impressed with the performances of a number of the team, the core of which is English.
And so attention turns to Stamford Bridge. Since 2003, the youth team have only played one fixture at the stadium, a 1-0 win over Cardiff to close the 2005/06 season. Even if the attendance is only in the hundreds, the opportunity to play there instead of Griffin Park will be an extra incentive for the players involved. In both of the past two seasons Chelsea have been eliminated by the eventual winner Liverpool, and after somewhat easier propositions in the previous rounds to date, Leicester pose a credible and dangerous threat.
The Foxes are currently second in Group B with an impressive 12 wins and 42 goals from their 17 games. High-scoring matches appear to be their forte, with 5-0 wins over Sheffield Wednesday and Portsmouth and a 6-2 win over Bristol City to their credit. Those results, though, can be tempered by heavy defeats to Arsenal, Tottenham, and Aston Villa, academy squads more towards the calibre of Chelsea. Jon Rudkin’s boys have beaten Birmingham and Crystal Palace to get this far, and they too will look at the remainder of the draw and feel this could be their year.
One player to watch for Leicester is striker Ashley Chambers. The 17 year-old hitman has bags of pace and England youth experience, hitting a hat-trick on his Three Lions debut. He has already made his senior and league debut, so his place in the team is not a guarantee but having played in both previous rounds suggests he’ll be available and a threat to Chelsea’s chances of winning.
The FA Youth Cup is open to players on their second year scholarship or younger, so for Chelsea this eliminates the likes of Scott Sinclair and Ben Sahar. Paul Clement is unfortunately likely to be without England Under-17 duo Jacob Mellis and Frank Nouble, and French wizard Gael Kakuta, as the three are scheduled to join up with their respective squads ahead of the Algarve Tournament in Portugal. If the three are away, it’s a massive blow for Chelsea, as Mellis and Kakuta are the top scorers for the youth team this season, and Kakuta leads the team in assists as well.
Still, with the ability to call on the experience and older talent of Patrick van Aanholt, Rhys Taylor and Michael Woods, the team will have an older look than many of the Under 18 league game line-ups have looked. Morten Nielsen could take a starting berth up front, whilst Adam Phillip will be pressing for a start. The larger pitch at the Bridge, not to mention the quality of the surface, should favour the patient passing game favoured by Clement, and give full license for the pace of the team as a whole to be used in the larger areas of space.
The match kicks off at 7pm and entry to Stamford Bridge on the night is free to everybody. The West Stand (lower tier) will be opened for the game. A full match report will follow on CFCnet.