With the FA Youth Cup Final edging ever closer, CFCnet takes a look inside the two teams and the match ahead. In the first part of our preview for the Final, we take a look at how both teams are set to line up, and how they compare to the Semi Final match-up of 2008.
Chelsea’s team largely picks itself, with Dermot Drummy favouring the majority of players throughout the competition. Injuries have occasionally meant a reshuffle, with only two real places up for grabs, one dependent on the formation he wishes to utilise.
Sam Walker will keep goal, and has been one of the club’s best players this season. In 21 appearances he has conceded at a rate of less than a goal per game and averages a clean sheet almost every other appearance. He is a commanding presence and dominates in the air, but can be prone to erratic kicking. In front of him, the back four of (right to left) Billy Clifford, Daniel Mills Pappoe, Jeffrey Bruma and Aziz Deen-Conteh provide solidity combined with an attacking threat. Clifford is a converted midfielder who loves to get forward whilst Deen-Conteh has incredible athleticism and looks at home in many roles, including cover at centre-back. Schoolboy Mills Pappoe has scored for the reserves this season whilst Bruma is in his third Youth Cup campaign, and his second Final, in a season where he has featured for the first team.
Drummy is likely to favour a three-man midfield anchored by captain Conor Clifford. The Irish Under-21 international has scored against Nottingham Forest and Portsmouth along the route to the Final and will hopefully be back to full fitness after limping out of the Semi Final against Blackburn. He provides an energy and drive in the engine room which gets the team going and regularly leads the transition from defence to attack. Alongside him is the Portuguese Kaby, who has reinvented himself from a lightweight playmaker into a dogged, terrier-like ball-carrier with no little technical ability. A short temper has seen two red cards this season but his presence will be important to Chelsea’s chances of success.
Josh McEachran is the star of the midfield however, and the jewel in the academy’s crown. Only just 17, he has been training with the first team since the age of 15 and has travelled with Carlo Ancelotti’s squad on occasion this season. A talented string-puller with a wand of a left foot, he has remarkable composure and a deft touch to open up opposition defences. At times during the run to the Final Drummy has left out either McEachran or Kaby in favour of an extra attacking midfielder, but that would be unlikely at this stage.
Top scorer Marko Mitrovic will lead the line as a lone striker flanked by two from three wingers. The Swedish forward is approaching 20 goals for the season and thrives when competing against two defenders. He can occupy both people and space, bringing others into the play, and is a proficient finisher. On the left, Gokhan Tore is almost certain to get the nod. The Turkish Under-21 star is a dazzling dribbler with no end of skill, and whilst he can be guilty of over-playing, he is an imperious crosser of a ball and creates chances in abundance. On the right, Jacopo Sala has typically gotten the nod over Milan Lalkovic due to experience and his style of play. The Italian brings a mature, composed attitude and an accomplished technique, in contrast to Lalkovic’s speedy, gnat-like approach, not dissimilar to that of other wingers who share his diminutive stature. Both, however, will have a key part to play over the two legs, with the Slovakian sure to get time from the bench.
Benjamin Siegrist will be the first name on Tony McAndrew’s side and is a potential game-winner. The Swiss stopper was part of the World Under-17 Cup winning side, fresh from becoming European Champions of the same age group almost a year ago.
Defender Arsenio Halfhuid may have hit the headlines recently for his goalscoring antics as an emergency striker but his return from injury will be a welcome boost for the Villains’ defence. Daniel Devine and Derrick Williams offer options inside, whilst forward Durrell Berry has been utilised at right-back more often than not lately. Similarly, midfielder Ellis Deeney (younger brother of Walsall hot-shot Troy) has been the left-back of choice in recent games and has done well.
The midfield lacks captain Gary Gardner, who was well on his way to 15+ goals this season before injuring his cruciate ligaments and ending his campaign. Former Arsenal schoolboy Samir Carruthers carries the charge from the middle, backed up by Richard Blythe, whilst pace is provided wide by Ryan Simmonds and Tomos Roberts, formerly of Manchester United. Ebby Nelson-Addy and Andras Stieber, younger brother of former reserve teamer Zoltan, provide alternative options.
A number of options in attack has regularly led by the prolific Jason Lampkin (another former Man Utd player) and the pacy Kofi Poyser, who scored in the first leg of the Semi Final. However, Lampkin has suffered a serious knee injury and will be sidelined for a year. Connor Taylor has been in scoring form in 2010 and will be looking to earn a starting berth, after impressing as an impact substitute.
In comparison to the 2008 Semi Final clash, Chelsea were using a similar 4-3-3 look to that which they will adopt for this occasion, with Jeffrey Bruma at the heart of a defence incorporating athletic full-backs who like to get forward. This midfield has a little more industry than was provided by Michael Woods and Jacob Mellis (although Lee Sawyer’s presence helped), but could lack the attacking threat those two offered. McEachran will look to have the same effect Sergio Tejera did as the Spaniard was in fine form along the road to the Final. Miroslav Stoch and Gael Kakuta provided flair and goalscoring threat in abundance, which the current wingers will hope to match, and Mitrovic looks to be a far greater threat to Siegrist’s goal than Morten Nielsen was to David Bevan.
Siegrist provides a greater security than Elliot Parish did in the visiting goal as Villa are likely to stick with a similar 4-4-2 look, although the forward line could be more flexible than when the two clubs last met in cup competition. Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark have both since progressed to the club’s first team squad and with Sam Simmonds and Matthew Roome would appear to be, on paper at least, a stronger unit than they currently possess. Creativity from Barry Bannan, Marc Albrighton and Harry Forrester has been replaced by dynamic pace from wide positions, but they may lack the guile which caused many a threat to Paul Clement’s boys. Nathan Delfouneso is and was a better striker than either side currently possesses; and his partnership with James Collins caused a threat to all teams. McAndrew’s side will be looking to find a way to penetrate what has been a solid Chelsea defence.
In Part Two, we’ll take a look at the Youth Cup in a wider scope and how the ground lies for the academy at Chelsea.