Chelsea’s young stars reached a third FA Youth Cup Finals in four years and kept alive hopes of being the first team to retain the trophy in half a decade after beating Liverpool 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, a result which secured a 4-1 aggregate victory.
Having won 2-0 at Anfield last Friday, the Blues entered the second leg in a commanding position but were given food for thought early on when Kristoffer Peterson gave Liverpool something to work with, but a sublime John Swift equaliser and a header from Nathan Aké in first half stoppage time proved enough for Adi Viveash’s boys to progress. It could have been even more comfortable but for some exceptional second half profligacy.
Both managers made changes to their teams from last week’s opening gambit, with Viveash welcoming back Aké in defence in relief of the injured Andreas Christensen, whilst Swift was given a start ahead of young Charlie Colkett in the attacking midfield department.
Liverpool’s Steve Cooper was able to include Jerome Sinclair after the striker missed last week’s fixture but was deprived of the influential services of Ryan McLaughlin and Jordon Ibe. Midfielder Yalany Baio started at right-back, whilst Sinclair replaced Ibe and Daniel Trickett-Smith was drafted in for Cameron Brannagan in midfield.
Knowing they had to turn things around, Liverpool’s start was both purposeful and necessary; it was they who had to force the issue. An early free kick gave big centre-back Lloyd Jones a chance to win the aerial ball, but his header was comfortably over Mitchell Beeney’s crossbar.
In response, Jeremie Boga picked up the ball in space out on the left and sought to test Baio’s competence in his secondary position. The eventual shot was high and wide, but the tone had been set as far as the young Frenchman was concerned.
Peterson’s opening goal inside a quarter of an hour certainly made things interesting. The Swedish forward was impressive in the first clash and picked up where he left off, beating schoolboy full-back Ola Aina and central defender Alex Davey before picking out the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
It was no more than the Reds deserved for their high-energy start, and they were keen not to let Chelsea settle and get a feel for the game, instead relentlessly seeking parity in the tie.
They weren’t able to draw Beeney into further notable action though, and instead it was his opposite number Ryan Fulton who was the busier of the two stoppers, watching Alex Kiwomya’s ambitious long shot fizz wide before saving from Kevin Wright’s low strike.
Boga’s influence on the game grew as the first half went on and with it Chelsea came into the ascendancy. His dribbling on the edge of Liverpool’s area regularly forced the defenders to commit, but time and again when the space opened up for a shot, he took one too many touches and either opted to pass, or saw his eventual belated effort blocked.
The Blues needed a slightly more direct and decisive approach and when it arrived, they duly equalised. Swift picked up the ball inside his own half and strode forward imperiously before releasing Kiwomya down the right with a perfectly weighted pass for the rapid number seven to chase after.
Not content with that, he pushed on into the penalty box and arrived on cue to sweep home Kiwomya’s cross in style, passing the ball into the far corner, leaving Fulton helpless.
1-1 would have been a fair scoreline at the break on the balance of play but Chelsea wanted more, and in stoppage time they got it. Boga’s near post corner picked out the run of Aké, and he nodded home unmarked in a goal of unerring simplicity. Perhaps Liverpool had switched off ready for the interval; if they did it proved costly, as they headed in with three goals between the sides.
If they were to stage an improbable comeback, an early second half goal was a must, but their big chance came and went. For the first time on a largely frustrating night for him, Sinclair got the better of Aké, but slipped when shooting and watched his effort beat Beeney but cannon back off the Shed End crossbar.
Having received a bit of luck, Chelsea began to play freely, without their first half nerves and mistakes. Islam Feruz, a relentless worker all night in attack, saw a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside after being played in by a cheeky blind pass by Boga, and it wasn’t to be the last time he was denied on the night.
In a short span of no more than ten minutes the Scotsman had four attempts at goal, but failed to work Fulton with any of them. To his credit, he won the ball back high up the pitch for at least two of them, but the finish wasn’t there on this particular evening.
Swift made way shortly after the restart for the lively legs of Connor Hunte out wide; a move which allowed Boga to come inside into his favoured position behind the striker. He had yet another good opening inside the ‘D’, but will want to quickly forget his attempted scoop over Fulton which landed a few rows back in the Matthew Harding Lower.
Liverpool’s heads had dropped considerably and, Peterson aside, they struggled to get anything going. Dunn tried a shot from well outside the box which Beeney watched wide, whilst Baio’s highly ambitious effort from even further out was so poorly hit it turned into a short pass to a team-mate.
Chelsea really should have added gloss to the scoreline but Kiwomya joined in with those shooting off target, twice missing the far post by mere inches after finding good position inside the right channel.
Substitutions continued for both teams, with Charlie Colkett replacing the tired Feruz, whilst Alex O’Hanlon and Nathan Burke were Cooper’s dice rolls for Liverpool. However, the realisation that their cup run was coming to an end saw Rossiter, Cleary and Jones all booked in the late stages; Cleary being especially fortunate to stay on the pitch when denying Ruben Loftus-Cheek a clear goalscoring opportunity.
The Blues had a second goal unfairly ruled out when Baker’s free kick hit the crossbar and Kiwomya was adjudged to be offside when following up to prod home the rebound, and Boga asked Fulton to save at his near post in stoppage time, but their tally proved enough to take them through to the Final by a goal difference commensurate with their displays over the 180 minutes.
They now take on Norwich City, who came out victorious against Nottingham Forest in the other Semi Final. The first leg is at Carrow Road on Monday 29th April, with the return at Stamford Bridge on a date to be confirmed.
Chelsea: Beeney, Aina, Davey, Aké (Conroy 84), Wright, Baker (c), Loftus-Cheek, Swift (Hunte 53), Boga, Kiwomya, Feruz (Colkett 77)
Subs not Used: Killip, Dabo
Liverpool: Fulton, Baio, Jones, Cleary, Magure, Lussey (c), Rossiter (Burke 79), Trickett-Smith, Dunn (O’Hanlon 84), Peterson, Sinclair
Subs not Used: Crump, Brannagan, Whelan
Goals: Swift, Aké (Chelsea); Peterson (Liverpool)
Booked: Rossiter, Jones, Cleary (Liverpool)
Dan Davies’ excellent match gallery can be viewed HERE.