Chelsea secured their second FA Youth Cup crown in three years last Wednesday night.
Nathaniel Chalobah, Lucas Piazon and Jamal Blackman followed in the footsteps of Conor Clifford, Josh McEachran and Gökhan Töre in the 2009-10 season as both groups of Under-18s went on to lift the coveted trophy.
Many will look to draw comparisons between the two teams and attempt to conclude if one is better than the other, but in truth, each group have their own strengths and weaknesses and were really quite different.
The 2009-10 team were clearly very strong from an early stage and were arguably the favourites to win the competition. They had strength in depth and unrivalled attacking talent to the degree that Milan Lalkovic was relegated to something of a super-sub role for much of the run to the Final.
McEachran was on the fringes of the first team whilst Jeffrey Bruma played at centre-half despite making appearances in the Premier League during the same season.
The Dutchman scored three times in the competition, most notably a free kick to earn a first leg draw at Villa Park in the first leg of the Final. Rohan Ince and Daniel Pappoe also featured at centre-back and have incomparable size and physical prowess, something which was the bedrock of a defence which only conceded three goals in their eight matches.
That in itself was quite a feat but the team were so good going forwards that they were rarely threatened. Töre and Jacopo Sala manned the flanks with Marko Mitrovic capable of occupying two centre-backs at the same time, freeing up space for McEachran in the final third whilst Kaby and Clifford provided the industry in the middle of the pitch.
Billy Clifford and Aziz Deen-Conteh were full-backs nominally but both are at their best going forward and made their presence felt time and again.
Perhaps the strongest indication of just how good that team was is the list of teams they beat. Charlton, Nottingham Forest, Portsmouth, Watford, Blackburn and Aston Villa are all extremely capable sides who are regularly involved in the later stages of youth competitions and are amongst the more productive academies in the country.
Only Villa came close to pulling off a result, earning a credible draw at home in the Final and holding their own in the first half at Stamford Bridge.
Samir Carruthers is the sole member of that team to have featured in the first team since and Benjamin Siegrist is still held in high regard but the remainder of the team are unlikely to ever make a notable impact.
In contrast, the Chelsea team has already spawned two full internationals in Bruma and Töre (Conor Clifford has been called up to a full squad but was not capped) and a host of Under-21 internationals.
Perhaps that’s what one would expect of a team which featured it’s fair share of imported talent. It’s also one of the two major differences between this year’s team and the class of 09-10.
The attacking triumvirate of Lucas Piazon, Islam Feruz and Amin Affane and defender Nathan Aké were all sourced from abroad, but otherwise the rest of the players who featured in the competition were club sourced and developed, and for many years in a lot of cases.
The other, of course, is experience. Only five of this year’s regular squad are unable to return next year as Chelsea became one of the youngest sides to ever win the competition.
Feruz and Alex Kiwomya played a regular role as schoolboys whilst Ruben Loftus-Cheek would surely have done so if not for injury, and there was also involvement for Reece Mitchell in dispatches.
Adi Viveash’s team faced more adversity than Dermot Drummy’s, but in that adversity they displayed a will and desire which may not have been apparent in their predecessors. Where the class of 09-10 ran roughshod over each opponent, the latest crop were the comeback kings, battling back from deficits against Doncaster Rovers, West Ham United, and most famously Nottingham Forest.
The unity and belief created from those magnificent moments clearly helped the team grow and they produced their best moments when it mattered most. Their most impressive 45 minutes came in the first half at Old Trafford, and they were clinical and decisive against Blackburn at Stamford Bridge to all but secure the title.
In general, both teams played in a similar manner, as the academy attempts to breed players who play the same way throughout the age groups, but differences still remain clear. The team of two years ago were more dynamic and able to go from one end to the other with devastating effect.
The younger, more recent crop, however, adopted a more measured approach at times and perhaps played more ‘attractive’ football (whatever that means), but they were also more open at the back and defended with the sort of naivety and nervousness you might associate with first-year scholars.
In a head-to-head, one off match, the 09-10 team would probably win as a result of their added experience and attacking prowess, but to write off this generation is foolish, as they’ve proven time and time again.
Perhaps we should just sit back and appreciate two superb teams who have entertained us and provided exceptional value for money whilst offering a glimpse into the future, whether it’s in blue or not. Only Chelsea FC themselves can make that choice.
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