Appearing in a third FA Youth Cup Final in four years is no mean feat in the modern era of football, but it’s something Chelsea will be doing this week as they prepare to take on Norwich City in the first leg of this year’s deciding tie.
The Blues are seeking to be the first team since Liverpool to successfully retain the most prestigious junior age group trophy in the country since the middle of the last decade, and indeed, they are the first since since that Reds team to appear in the showpiece occasion three times out of four. Conversely, it’s a first Final appearance in thirty years for Norwich City, who came out on top against Everton back in 1983 in a team featuring future Bayern Munich-beater Jeremy Goss.
With England youth internationals present in both squads, it promises to be an entertaining and exciting spectacle as usual, and should have the added intrigue of being played in front of a large crowd both in the grounds and on television.
How They Got There
Chelsea’s run has been typically tense and dramatic, although not to the remarkable levels of the 2011-12 season. A 3-2 win at Colchester United in the Third Round was followed by an extra time triumph at Charlton Athletic by the same scoreline, before a more routine Fifth Round win over Barnsley by three goals to nil.
A potentially tricky Quarter Final trip to Derby County ended with a 2-1 scoreline in favour of the Blues, and a two-legged Semi Final against Liverpool proved more comfortable than expected as Adi Viveash’s boys won 2-0 at Anfield and 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Norwich kicked off their campaign with a 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers and knocked out another London side in Millwall in Round Four. Extra Time was required to get past Birmingham and into the last eight, where they produced the most impressive result of their season to date in winning 4-2 away to a much-fancied Everton team.
They faced a potentially troublesome Semi Final date against Nottingham Forest and despite winning 1-0 at the City Ground, they lost the return at Carrow Road by the same scoreline and played for an hour of the game (including an additional thirty minutes) down to ten men, but came through 5-4 on penalties.
Chelsea, as many readers will be well aware, are blessed with incredible depth and versatility in this crop of players. Even with a handful of capable players absent throughout the run to the Final, they have been able to put out a formidable-looking team more often than not.
The majority of the team for Monday’s first leg will be similar to that which saw off Liverpool ten days prior. Then, Nathan Aké came into the fold for the injured Andreas Christensen, but if the Dane is ready to resume, he would most likely return at right-back, where he played in the early rounds. Such a move would mean schoolboy Ola Aina, so impressive against Liverpool, would drop out, but his time is still very much to come.
Adam Nditi missed both legs of the Semi with an ankle injury suffered in the NextGen Series but came through 55 minutes of a league fixture at Bolton last week and is very much in contention. Typically a left-back, his place in his absence has been taken very well by the under-rated Kevin Wright, and it may be that Nditi instead plays in a more advanced position, a role he played early in his career and has returned to in recent times.
If Nditi is to be accommodated in an attacking role, it would likely mean that John Swift would drop out of the team and back to the bench. Despite playing very well when called upon, the 17 year-old has struggled to get into the team ahead of Jeremie Boga, and whilst they were both decisive against Liverpool, Viveash will likely favour Boga again. Look for Swift to come off the bench and be a very important player when he gets on, though.
Projected Chelsea Team: Mitchell Beeney, Andreas Christensen, Alex Davey, Nathan Aké, Kevin Wright, Lewis Baker (c), Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jeremie Boga, Adam Nditi, Alex Kiwomya, Islam Feruz
Norwich have a much smaller pool from which to draw their selection, but will have right-back Cameron Norman available after he managed to fulfil his one-match ban for being sent off in the Semi Finals. He will reprise his regular role in a back four featuring robust centre-backs Harry Toffolo and Kyle McFadden, whilst the goalkeeping duties will once again be handled by Will Britt, a youngster actually on loan from Southampton.
Former Chelsea schoolboy midfielder Cameron McGeehan acts as both captain and anchorman in the middle of the park, doing the industrious stuff with a touch of class in order to allow the pacy Reece Hall-Johnson and skilful Cameron King to attack ahead of him. Twin brothers Josh and Jacob Murphy occupy the wings with exceptional speed, flair and directness, looking to cause mayhem in the space created by the hard-working lone forward Carlton Morris.
Projected Norwich City Team: Will Britt, Cameron Norman, Harry Toffolo, Kyle McFadden, Ben Wyatt, Cameron McGeehan (c), Reece Hall-Johnson, Cameron King, Josh Murphy, Jacob Murphy, Carlton Morris
How Chelsea Win
It might sound a tad arrogant or condescending, but for Chelsea, it’s a case of playing to their potential. If they do themselves justice and perform with their usual verve and dynamism, they should come out on top. They have better players in almost every department and the ability to cause Norwich considerable problems.
The Canaries were not exceptionally impressive in either leg of their Semi Final against Nottingham Forest. They afforded their red-shirted opponents time and space on the ball in midfield despite having an extra man by virtue of formational differences, and ran their luck by way of opposition profligacy and woodwork fortune.
Forest’s quick and tricky wide players isolated full-backs Norman and Wyatt and had their fair share of success, particularly Wilfried Gnahore up against Norman. The Norwich right-back is big and strong but appears to have a penchant for being a little cavalier in the tackle, and will likely need some assistance should he be up against Nditi, Boga, or even the fleet-footed Connor Hunte, who could be a good play against him.
Forest were also keen to expose a perceived lack of speed and agility in the heart of the Norwich team by spinning quick balls over the top into the attacking third, and looked dangerous when they did so. Chelsea will do this in their own way as Baker and Loftus-Cheek will feed Feruz on the ground, with the Scottish forward then bringing the wide forwards into the game, and they’ll go from there.
With quick movement of the ball, playing in little triangles and creating their own space, and being accurate when presented with chances to score, the Blues will fancy themselves. However, as we know, it’s always much easier said than done in football, and Norwich have their own game winners too…
How Norwich City Win
Norwich’s chances start and finish with the dangerous Murphy brothers. Both recently capped for the first time at Under-19 level by England, they have been a driving force for Neil Adams en route to the final and will be called upon again to make things happen against the Blues.
As you might expect from twins, they play in a very similar manner. They’re speedy, they like to get at their opposing full-back, and they like to do things either all on their own, or only involving the other brother. Their ‘selfishness’ occasionally leads to things breaking down, but it’s a facet of their game which Adams is willing to accommodate because on the balance of things, they can produce when it matters most. Knowing that the spine of Chelsea’s team is their strength, they will be extra keen to do damage in wider areas.
Norwich’s prototypical 4-3-3- setup is reminiscent of former Chelsea teams and, in that vein, it requires a hard-working centre-forward who can occupy multiple men in order to bring others into the game. Carlton Morris is that man; strong and willing, he puts himself about and generally makes a nuisance of himself for the greater cause.
Reece Hall-Johnson’s pace from central areas will perhaps surprise early on, as he might be expected to play wider with his game, but it works well with King and McGeehan in the middle. McGeehan is the brains of the team, taking it upon himself to begin the transition from defence to attack, a role he plays very well. He moves the ball with intelligence and technique, and isn’t shy of initiating contact in his defensive capacities.
They have the size to threaten from set pieces, and in Harry Toffolo they also have a dead-ball threat from direct shots. As underdogs, they will have to take advantage of those situations more here than ever. They’ll also be playing the first leg in front of almost 20,000 fans at Carrow Road, and must take advantage of the boost they’ll undoubtedly receive from that to put themselves into a strong position heading back to Stamford Bridge.
These two teams met in the same competition last season, when Chelsea triumphed on penalties at Carrow Road after a 0-0 draw. Six of the Norwich players involved that night will feature again – Norman, Toffolo, McGeehan, Hall-Johnson and the Murphys – but they are arguably weaker at centre-back and in attack, where Jamar Loza was a real danger for them.
For Chelsea, Aké, Nditi, Swift, Feruz, Baker and Kiwomya are back for a second trip to East Anglia, with the latter two successfully converting penalties in the shootout fifteen months ago.
They’ve not met in league competition this season, but shared an Under-18 win apiece last term. Chelsea won 5-2 at Cobham, whilst Norwich won 2-1 at their Colney Training Centre.
When and Where to Watch
The First Leg is live on Chelsea TV and ITV4 this Monday 28th April, kicking off at Carrow Road at 7.45pm. The Second Leg is a fortnight later, on Monday 13th May at Stamford Bridge at the same time of 7.45pm, with the same television coverage.
Tickets for both games remain on sale, although availability is limited for the first leg. Prices for the Chelsea home date are £5 for Adults and £3 for concessions, and can be bought online, over the phone and in person until Thursday 9th May, from which point they will only be available until 4pm on matchday in person.
You can keep fully up to date with absolutely everything throughout on Twitter by following @chelseayouth, whilst detailed reports will follow both legs here at TheChels.net.