In 1961, Chelsea’s youth team won the second of back to back FA Youth Cups. 47 years later, the Blues have finally returned to the Final of the prestigious youth tournament, and with a generation of talent to rival that of the last team to win, stand a very strong chance of winning.It has been a highly impressive run through the competition, one which has proven to be tricky and unkind to them in recent previous seasons, being knocked out by typically strong academy sides from Aston Villa and twice Liverpool. Undeniably, the draw this year presenting Paul Clement’s boys with Stevenage, Shrewsbury, Leicester, Port Vale and Aston Villa has been easier, but in Leicester and Aston Villa the team have done incredibly well to see off two very strong teams.
The Semi Final against the Midlands youngsters seemed to sum up everything about the season for Chelsea, and at the same time showed that they have everything necessary to go all the way. A tight and well fought first leg at Stamford Bridge looked for a long time as if Nathan Delfouneso’s goal was going to give Villa a strong advantage, but a late Adam Phillip goal was just reward for great late fight and desire. An away second leg in front of 10,000+ fans at a Premiership ground could have been daunting for many players, but despite going behind early and being pegged back at 2-1, another late Phillip goal saw them through.
That second leg was notable for two brilliant goals from Chelsea midfielders. First, Sergio Tejera showed incredible skill to control, turn and volley past Elliot Parish into the top corner from 18 yards, then this season’s superstar Gael Kakuta ran 50 yards before drilling into the bottom corner. The Frenchman will return to the Chelsea fold in scoring form, having notched twice for France on Sunday to seal their place in the summer’s European Under 17 Championships.
Late in the second leg, Lee Sawyer was sent off for a rash challenge, and the dismissal will rule him out of the first leg. He wasn’t likely to start anyway, as Clement has consistently shown faith with a regular eleven throughout the crucial stages of the competition. Rhys Taylor will play in goal, with a back four of captain Nana Ofori-Twumasi, Dutchmen Patrick van Aanholt and Jeffrey Bruma, and Ben Gordon. Michael Woods will hold the midfield, with Tejera and Kakuta ahead of him. Morten Nielsen should lead the front line, flanked by the little and large combination of Miroslav Stoch and Frank Nouble.
The 20-man squad have spent a few days at a training camp in Sardinia preparing for the first leg and will have had an almost two-week break, with most of them missing the league game against Arsenal and any reserve action as well as a cancelled game against Leicester. They’ll be ready physically, and you can almost guarantee they’ll be ready for a very strong and competitive Manchester City team.
The leading star in this City team is Daniel Sturridge. After suffering a long-term injury he returned to action in this competition earlier in the season, notching a hat-trick. Always incredibly highly rated and a Nike client since he was an early teenager, he has already made waves in the first team, scoring twice for Eriksson’s men in 2008.
He is ably complemented by a number of other talented players. Captain Ben Mee anchors a strong defence whilst in Vladimir Weiss they have their own talented Slovakian winger (and a close friend of Stoch). Kieran Trippier can chip in with goals, as well as left back Ryan McGivern, who scored twice in the first leg of their Semi Final against Sunderland to see them through.
They also have Liberian attacking midfielder Alex Nimely, who signed for the club in January, and according to his former club’s website, played extensively in the African Champions League last season aged only 15. He is seen as something of a potential superstar and in his early appearances in light blue has shown he can produce at this level, scoring in the Quarter Finals against Plymouth.
With Chelsea’s league form indifferent throughout the year, their focus has clearly and understandably turned to the FA Youth Cup, and after so long without winning it, being the first team to lift a trophy in Chelsea blue this season would be a wonderful achievement. They’ve come through some testing times this season with incredible team spirit and they have the desire to go all the way for each other. For twelve of the squad this will be the last opportunity they get to win the trophy, as they become overage and ineligible for next season.
The game takes place this Thursday, April 3rd at Stamford Bridge. Kickoff is at 7pm and entry is FREE into the West Stand. If the West Stand fills up, Chelsea will open the East Stand lower, and then more if necessary. A big crowd is expected so show up early and avoid missing out. A full match report will follow on CFCnet.