For the second time in three years, Chelsea are in the FA Youth Cup Semi Finals. They reached that stage after dismantling Watford at Vicarage Road on Wednesday night. Goals from Kaby, Marko Mitrovic, Jeffrey Bruma and Josh McEachran sealed a result which reflected the gulf in class between the two sides on the night, not just from a physical point of view, but a technical one as well.
Coach Dermot Drummy made two changes from the side which beat Portsmouth in the last round, bringing in the fit-again Jeffrey Bruma to partner Daniel Mills Pappoe at centre-back (with Aziz Deen-Conteh moving to left-back as Billy Knott dropped out), and replacing the injured Jacopo Sala with Milan Lalkovic, who missed the previous fixture through injury himself. Watford were at full strength and played a similar team to that which lost 3-1 at Cobham earlier this season, including England youth international Eddie Oshodi, who captained the side.
However, it soon became apparent that Chelsea had an advantage in all departments. Physically, they stood out as giants. Bruma, alongside man-child Pappoe Mills, looked even bigger and with a more developed physique, and it was a trend which continued across the park. This Chelsea team isn’t the biggest – featuring the slight McEachran and Billy Clifford and the short Kaby and Gokhan Tore – but the hosts seemed even smaller. Even Oshodi, their biggest player, struggled against Mitrovic. On top of this, the Blues had a night where it clicked technically, and they carved their way through with style and panache.
It might seem as if that is a little over-the-top, but it had to be seen to be believed. Save for a ten minute spell early in the game, Watford were chasing shadows and getting nowhere. Mitrovic had the first chance of the night with a near post header from Gokhan’s corner, but it went wide by a few feet or so. At the other end, Gavin Massey flicked Piero Mingoia’s free kick just wide of Sam Walker’s left hand post, as the Hornets responded to Chelsea’s tenacious opening by springing on quick breaks, using the pace of Matt Whichelow and striker Massey.
Chelsea, adopting the classic 4-3-3 formation most of the players have developed with during their time in the academy (as it was installed at the club top-to-bottom by Jose Mourinho six years ago during their formative years), looked to spread the ball wide at every opportunity. If the ball to Lalkovic or Gokhan wasn’t on, the angle changed and they looked for Mitrovic through the channels to build play off of him. It was captain Conor Clifford who was pulling the strings early on, and it was the Irishman who started the move to provide the first real talking point.
His arched ball over the top caught Theo Angus out of position, and goalkeeper Jonathan Bond got it all wrong as he came to beat Lalkovic to the pass. The Slovakian got there first and lobbed the ball into the area, where Mitrovic was advancing towards an empty net. In holding off two defenders he controlled it before scoring, but the linesman deemed he had secured possession through the use of a hand. It was a dubious call, but one vociferously appealed for by the majority of the 2270-strong home crowd, who got their way.
If a sense of injustice was felt in the blue camp, it didn’t show, but they were ahead properly five minutes later. Bruma carried the ball into the attacking third, with Chelsea camped in the Watford half, and fed Mitrovic. He tried to turn on the edge of the area but was held up, and as the ball broke, Kaby sent a first-time effort crashing into the roof of the net. It left Bond with no chance, and was the Portuguese’s third goal of the season. His first came against the Hornets back in September and that was another screamer. This bettered his first go, and it was clear he was delighted with his effort.
It should have been 2-0 immediately, as Chelsea worked the ball through and McEachran found himself one on one with Bond. With the goal at his mercy he tried to be a little bit too clever in attempting a chip, and got too much power on it. The ball landed on top of the net, and the chance was spurned. It was a chance created by Bruma, who was cruising through the fixture and showing why he is in and around the first team squad on a regular basis.
Bond was called into action again within minutes, as Billy Clifford chanced his arm from almost 40 yards out. He had the time and space to size up the effort, and it whistled towards the goal, dipping late, but the Watford stopper was in position to tip it to safety. The visitors were pushing to get a second before half time, and in stoppage time they were handed the opportunity to get it. A ball in from the right found Mitrovic, who attempted to use his frame to shield the ball. Oshodi, in the act of jostling with the Swedish hitman, pushed him flush in the face, prompting a fall and the referee to point at the spot. From distance it may have appeared soft but it was a clear foul, and Mitrovic dusted himself off to send Bond the wrong way, converting for his thirteenth goal of the season. On a cold night, Chelsea will have been warmed by achieving breathing room going back inside at the break.
Watford had been quiet and not threatened since Massey’s early header, and they didn’t exactly come out firing for the second half. Lalkovic had the first effort in anger but barely got hold of it as he came in off the right wing, and then Mingoia hit a free kick which looked closer than it actually was, as Walker was completely in control and watched it wide. As the home team started to push higher up, they left holes for Chelsea to exploit, and Conor Clifford almost took advantage when Gokhan played him in on one counter attack. He looked to size up one of his trademark piledrivers from distance, but it was deflected away for a corner.
Whilst that foray was fruitless, a third goal would arrive after an hour. A corner from the left wing was cleared but didn’t get any great distance on it, and from 35 yards out, Billy Clifford chipped an inch perfect ball over the Watford defence. They had looked to play offside but got it wrong, leaving Bruma clean through on goal. He showed a composure and touch which belies his position and beat Bond with ease to extend the lead. It was the Dutchman’s second goal in two Youth Cup appearances this season, and was reward for an outstanding performance.
He could have added another to his name within five minutes, as his 25 yard free kick curled over the wall but landed a foot the wrong side of the post. In between, Bond had found time to get down well to beat away Gokhan’s cleanly hit left-footed effort. The Hornets’ stopper had his shaky moments but was far and away his team’s best performer on the night, and was at times the sole reason that the score was kept to just four. Chelsea began to wind down and keep possession as the game ran towards the closing stages, but the referee decided to take centre stage, booking three Watford players and largely appearing as a comical and uncertain figure in a game which had long since lost its competitive edge.
Oshodi forced Walker into his only save of the night, a routine pluck out of the air from a tame header, and Mingoia – the most lively of the outfield players for Watford – came forward well and drove a shot wide from the edge of the area. Chelsea put the icing on the cake minutes from the end when Gokhan danced his way into the area from the right, twisted and turned before squaring up and dinking a pass to the far post, where McEachran was unmarked to thunder a volley of precise technique past the helpless Bond. The 16 year-old has been outstanding during the cup run and notched his first goal since October 10th, a fine reward and fine way to seal a fine win.
There was just enough time to rest his legs and give George Saville his first minutes in this year’s campaign before the referee brought an end to the show. Chelsea’s supremacy shone in a way it hasn’t always done this season, but they’re one step closer to achieving their goal of winning this year’s trophy in April. Back at the start of the campaign, it appeared patently obvious that the squad had enough attacking power to overwhelm the majority of opponents, but there were questions about defensive security. After four ties, only one goal has been conceded, and that came in stoppage time away to Charlton with the aid of a deflection. The unit has looked strong and secure, whilst eleven goals have been scored at the other end.
It’s not exactly come against poor opposition either. All four matches have been against Premier League Academy teams – in contrast, the run to the 2008 Final took in Stevenage, Shrewsbury and Port Vale. This season has been tougher, but arguably more impressive. A two-legged Semi Final awaits against either Blackburn or Everton, which will provide a sterner test. If the team plays as well as it did tonight, they’ll stand a great chance.
Chelsea: Walker, B.Clifford, Mills Pappoe, Bruma, Deen-Conteh, C.Clifford (c), Kaby, McEachran (Saville 90), Lalkovic, Gokhan Tore, Mitrovic
Subs Not Used: Blackman, Sampayo, Ince, Devyne
Goals: Kaby 30, Mitrovic 45 pen, Bruma 60, McEachran 89
Watford: Bond, Yiadom, Fenwick (Thompson 62), Oshodi (c), Angus, Whichelow, Penny (Isaac 59), Brooks (Warburton 85), Mingoia, Murray, Massey.
Subs not used: Bonham, Smith
Booked: Penny, Yiadom, Brooks