A much rotated Chelsea Under-18 team lost 3-2 to Leicester City on Saturday morning as the league campaign draws nearer to its conclusion, but with Arsenal comfortably clear at the top of Group A, attentions have understandably been turned towards the jewel in the crown of the Academy season – The FA Youth Cup Final.
We’ll come to the showpiece occasion shortly, but first the weekend action, and the performance was a largely credible one from Dermot Drummy’s boys, who went down fighting inside the last ten minutes to a Leicester team who are unbeaten in league football this season, and have only suffered a Cup defeat to Liverpool. Goalkeeper Sam Walker was the only regular to feature, and he made way for Aldi Haxhia, who is being given occasional action ahead of his summer release. Schoolboy Todd Kane made his second start of the season in defence, with Ben Sampayo on the left and Rohan Ince paired with Kenny Strickland, another who is likely to move on in the summer, in the middle.
A diamond midfield featured Daniel Philliskirk for just the third time in the Under-18s this season, and Nikki Ahamed for just the second as both need playing time with the reserve campaign complete, and Philipp Prosenik continued his comeback from injury alongside Bobby Devyne in attack. However, two goals inside the opening quarter of an hour from prolific Welsh Under-21 hitman Elliott Chamberlain put the visitors on the back foot at Belvoir Drive, and it was an uphill struggle from there on.
With no joy until the break, it would turn out to be one of Drummy’s substitutes who would make the difference and kick-start the comeback. Nathaniel Chalobah, still barely 15 but an England Under-17 international defender, came on for Bobby Devyne and slotted into midfield, with Philliskirk moving into attack. He reduced arrears with a volley at the far post, converting Kane’s cross, and gave Chelsea a way back. Midway through the second period and parity was restored when Ahamed struck a stunning effort from long range which left goalkeeper Robert Ambrusic with no chance. It wasn’t to be their day though, and substitute Ollie Norburn scored a contentious winner with six minutes left, with there being a debate as to whether the ball crossed the line. The result leaves Chelsea in 4th place in Group A, 14 points behind leaders Arsenal, with a game in hand, but with only four fixtures remaining.
Team: Walker (Haxhia 60), Kane, Ince, Strickland, Sampayo, Saville, Ahamed, Rodgers, Philliskirk, Devyne (Chalobah 45), Prosenik
Goals: Chalobah, Ahamed
Meanwhile, ten of the expected eleven to start in the FA Youth Cup Final will have had a long break from action before they head to Villa Park for the first leg of their second appearance in the occasion in three years. Jeffrey Bruma continues to travel with the first team and will be involved against Aston Villa unless needed in the first team – the Stoke fixture is four days before the first leg and he may be needed with John Terry suspended – whilst others, like Milan Lalkovic this week – have been training with the senior players.
A full preview will follow early next week as the match itself draws nearer but the team will most certainly be along the lines of what we’ve seen throughout the competition. Sam Walker will keep goal behind a back four of Billy Clifford, Bruma, Daniel Mills Pappoe and Aziz Deen-Conteh. Josh McEachran and Conor Clifford are likely to be certain starters, with Kaby not far behind them. If the Portuguese midfielder doesn’t start, Lalkovic will join Jacopo Sala, Gokhan Tore and Marko Mitrovic in attack.
Villa reached the Final by beating Rochdale, West Brom, Millwall, Fulham and Newcastle United, the latter in the Semi Finals. They were rather lucky to escape with a 1-1 draw from the first leg at home, with Kofi Poyser cancelling out Phil Airey’s strike, and benefitted from an own goal by goalkeeper Jack Alnwick in the return at St. James’ Park to qualify against the run of play in the two ties. That said, it would be foolish to underestimate what is a talented side, and whilst a full team preview will once again follow next week, goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist was part of the Swiss team who are currently Under-17 World Champions, and they have copious firepower in attack, even from part-time striker Arsenio Halfhuid, most commonly a defender.
The two sides met in the 2007/08 Semi Final, where a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge (Adam Phillip equalising a Nathan Delfouneso goal) was followed by a 3-2 win in Birmingham, with goals coming from Gael Kakuta, Sergio Tejera, and a winner from cup hero Phillip. This year’s tie promises to be just as exciting, and the dates were confirmed today:
FA Youth Cup Final First Leg: Aston Villa vs Chelsea, Villa Park, Thursday 29th April, 7.30pm
Tickets: Call 0800 612 0970
FA Youth Cup Final Second Leg: Chelsea vs Aston Villa, Stamford Bridge, Tuesday 4th May, 7.45pm
Tickets: £3 adults, £1 concessions, available shortly until 5pm on match day.
Look out for more in-depth coverage in the build-up to the big event, and keep an eye on Twitter @chelseayouth for information on tickets.