On Thursday night Chelsea return to Anfield, scene of a painful and at times controversial Premier League defeat last Sunday. This time, the business is the FA Youth Cup.
Whilst Luiz Felipe Scolari’s charges came unstuck in front of millions, the next generation of Blues may well head into Liverpool as favourites, as they try to go a step further than they did last season, when they finished runners-up to Manchester City. If they are to progress, however, they’ll need to be at the very top of their games to beat a well-established Liverpool team who twice knocked Chelsea out of the competition in the last three years en route to winning the prestigious trophy back-to-back.
It’s been an eventful season for the academy. Brendan Rodgers’ departure to Watford in November caused a reshuffle of staff, and with Paul Clement’s promotion to Reserve Team Manager, the Under 18s and therefore the FA Youth Cup team fell into the hands of current Interim Manager Dermott Drummy. It’s not a problem though, with Drummy merely stepping up from the Under-16 team, and giving his schoolboys every chance to break through, using no fewer than half a dozen at times in the league.
Such a step was at times necessary though. With the usual slew of Reserve teamers out on loan – Sahar, Sinclair, Smith, Bertrand, Magnay, Cummings, Sawyer, Cork, Tejera, Bridcutt and Taiwo are or have been at different clubs this season – younger players have been stepping up to the next level. Some of the names likely to feature on Thursday have even been afforded the opportunity of involvement with Scolari’s first team.
Gael Kakuta and Jeffrey Bruma have both been given squad numbers, with Kakuta sitting on the bench against Stoke recently. Niclas Heimann, in the departure of Carlo Cudicini and injury to Rhys Taylor, has served as third goalkeeper on matchdays, a part of which involves fielding shots for the first team during the pre-match warm-up. He’s acquitted himself well, and was a key part of Chelsea’s 3rd round FAYC victory at Old Trafford in beating Manchester United 3-2 before Christmas.
That earned them a home tie against Walsall. Drummy’s boys lived up to expectations, winning 5-1 and hitting the woodwork three further times in a display of dominance. Chief amongst the Saddlers’ tormentors were Kakuta and Fabio Borini, who is in outstanding goalscoring form this season with 12 goals in as many games. Add the equally prolific Frank Nouble (13 goals in 17 games) to the attack with support from Jacob Mellis and this Chelsea team has as much offensive talent as perhaps anyone left in the competition.
It would be naive and foolish, however, to discount Liverpool. They reached Round Five after a penalty shootout victory away to Bristol Rovers, showing courage and nerve in completing a tricky away tie coming down to such a tense ending. Hughie McAuley’s team are 3rd in Academy Group C with a respectable 9 wins from 17 games, trailing Manchester City and Manchester United, who are putting together stupendous seasons.
Lauri Della Valle will be the man to watch, scoring in plentiful numbers, supported by David Amoo, Adam Pepper, Nathan Ecclestone and Tom Ince, son of Paul. Their defensive record is good, with young Australian stopper Dean Bouzanis highly rated behind centre-backs Christoph Buchtmann and England Under-16 international Andre Wisdom. They’ve only suffered defeat to each of the Manchester teams once since early October, and make no mistake, Chelsea will be up against it.
Drummy and Clement have so far stuck with the same team in the first two rounds, which means in turn it’s fairly safe to predict a 4-3-3 line-up for the Blues of;
Niclas Heimann, Nikki Ahmed, Rohan Ince, Jeffrey Bruma, Ben Gordon, Daniel Philliskirk (c), Jacob Mellis, Gael Kakuta, Jacopo Sala, Frank Nouble, Fabio Borini
The match kicks off at 7pm at Anfield, with entry on the night for any local Blues unfortunate enough to live in the area costing £4 (£2 concessions). Television coverage is provided by Chelsea TV from 6.30pm, whilst those with Virgin Media and the Setanta package (therefore unable to receive Chelsea TV) will be able to watch on Liverpool TV.
A report will follow at full time on CFCnet.