Chelsea are FA Youth Cup winners yet again. For the fourth time in six years, the sixth time in club history, and for the second consecutive seasons the Blues are the cream of the country’s crop in Under-18 knockout football and secured their crown in beating Manchester City 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Monday night, ensuring a 5-2 aggregate scoreline.
They become the first side to retain the most prestigious trophy in development football in England since Liverpool did it in 2006 and 2007, and they also emulate the famous Chelsea teams of 1959-60 and 1960-61 in holding onto the trophy in back to back years.
Do not miss Dan Davies’ always-excellent match (and trophy celebration) gallery – click HERE
Going into the night with a 3-1 lead from last week’s first leg, the young Blues found themselves pegged back early on when Kelechi Iheanacho pounced to score a debut goal and reduce the arrears to just one, but City were never able to get going and Izzy Brown restored the two-goal margin midway through the first half before Tammy Abraham struck for the 39th time this season a minute after the restart to sew things up.
With a week between matches and, more important, one head to head already under their belts, each manager was able to make subtle adjustments to their plans and playing personnel. Joe Edwards made a single change, bringing Jeremie Boga into the side for Ruben Sammut in a move that saw Charly Musonda drop deeper into midfield alongside captain Charlie Colkett, whilst Jason Wilcox made two changes. Marcus Wood replacing Manu Garcia was a move many might have seen coming but the inclusion of Nigerian forward Iheanacho over Isaac Buckley took many by surprise, with City having finally secured international clearance to grant him a debut on the biggest stage.
He didn’t need long to make an impact. With first team experience already under his belt in friendlies, he was on the scoresheet after just five minutes. Brandon Barker spun a ball out wide to Aaron Nemane on the right, and his cross to the near post was met by the new City number nine at the near post, leaving Brad Collins helpless. Game on.
Or so we thought. Chelsea roared back, backed by almost 11,000 supporters, and began to probe in and around City’s goal in search of an equaliser. They moved the ball at speed and with purpose but weren’t able to fashion anything in the way of a clear goalscoring chance until Brown rose highest to meet Colkett’s header and find the bottom corner to make it 1-1 after 20 minutes.
With things back to square one as far as the visitors were concerned, they could easily have been forgiven for falling in line with the way many Youth Cup ties tend to go at Stamford Bridge, lagging behind as Chelsea pick up a head of steam, but they didn’t. Iheanacho was in the mood to add to his tally and only a very good save by Collins prevented him from doing that with a header from Nemane’s cross shortly after Brown’s goal. They had the better chances too, for whilst Chelsea had a lot of possession and played with more of their usual verve, a few mistakes closer to the break allowed Bersant Celina to fizz one wide when he should have done better, and Barker to race away down the left only to be put under enough duress by Fikayo Tomori to prevent him from getting a clean shot away though.
It was Jay Dasilva, however, with the most timely intervention right at the end of the half as Angelino’s wicked cross was destined for Nemane to apply the finish at the far post only for the left-back to hook the ball to safety.
A theme of Chelsea’s recent youth successes has been the manner in which they killed the match early in the second half. In the Semi Final against Tottenham they blitzed their north London rivals with four goals either side of the break, and against both Roma and Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Youth League they found the back of the net twice in the first ten minutes after resuming. Here, whilst many of those in attendance were still returning to their seats, they did the same again.
Dominic Solanke, scorer of 35 goals himself this season, this time turned provider, collecting a pass and rolling the ball into Abraham’s path. He did what he’s done better than anyone else all season and beat Kjetil Haug with a low accurate finish before wheeling off in celebration in front of a packed Matthew Harding Lower tier.
One of four players in the squad who joined the club at Under-8 level, he was now well and truly fired up and went close to adding another, beating Tosin Adarabioyo with a stepover before rattling an effort just wide of the near post. It looked a long, long way back for City as they needed three goals AND to stop Chelsea from adding to their tally, but Kean Bryan did at least try with a speculative long-range dig which was always curling away from the target.
Jake Clarke-Salter, imperious in defence throughout, was a whisker away from deservedly adding his name to the scoresheet when he connected with Colkett’s corner like a missile only to watch the ball fly inches the wrong side of the post. A host of substitutions served to break up the flow of the game and when one of them – first leg goalscorer Buckley – had the ball in the net, it was ruled out for a foul on Clarke-Salter.
Another, Ruben Sammut (like Abraham, Tomori and Solanke, a Chelsea boy his entire career), could have put the icing on the cake at the death with a low shot pushed wide by Haug, but it wasn’t to matter. Chelsea were able to celebrate yet another Youth Cup trophy to add to their collection, and you wouldn’t really bet against them being there or thereabouts again next year, would you?
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Tomori, Clarke-Salter, Dasilva, Colkett (c), Abraham (Sammut 68), Musonda (Ali 84), Solanke, Boga (Palmer 73), Brown
Subs not Used: Thompson, Grant
Goals: Brown ’20, Abraham ‘46
Manchester City: Haug, Maffeo, Humphreys, Adarabioyo (c), Angelino, Bryan, Nemane, Wood (Manu Garcia 68), Iheanacho (Buckley 71), Celina, Barker
Subs not Used: Tattum, Albinson, Dilrosun
Goals: Iheanacho ‘7