Chelsea have one hand firmly on the grasp of their FA Youth Cup title after coming away from the first leg of this season’s Final with a 3-1 win over Manchester City at the City Football Academy Stadium on Monday night.
Tammy Abraham opened the scoring in spectacular style and although Isaac Buckley equalised almost immediately, Abraham’s 36th of the season restored that advantage after twenty minutes and it was a lead Chelsea would hold onto despite considerable City pressure throughout the second half. Dominic Solanke then struck a third at the death to put clear daylight between the two sides at the midway point in this two-legged fixture.
Coach Joe Edwards made just one change from team that successfully turned around a two-goal first leg deficit against Tottenham Hotspur at the Semi Final stage of the competition, and it was an enforced one with Jeremie Boga unable to return to full fitness after suffering an injury in the UEFA Youth League Final against Shakhtar Donetsk.
Charly Musonda took his place in a front four featuring Izzy Brown on the left, Abraham on the right and Solanke up front, with the dependable services of Ruben Sammut retained alongside captain Charlie Colkett in midfield. Ola Aina and Jay Dasilva manned the full back berths as per usual, with Fikayo Tomori and Jake Clarke-Salter at centre back and Brad Collins in goal.
City were somewhat hamstrung by injuries to a couple of their forwards and made two changes from the team that beat Leicester City in the second leg of their own Semi Final. Tosin Adarabioyo returned to the side to take his rightful place as captain with Charlie Oliver stepping down, whilst Buckley replaced midfielder Marcus Wood in a move that required a shuffling of the pack from manager Jason Wilcox as Manu Garcia operated in a deeper midfield role and Bersant Celina dropped into his favoured playmaking role just behind Buckley in attack.
Chelsea flew out of the traps, playing with the confidence and conviction given to them by recently being crowned European Under-19 Champions, and it took them just five minutes to make their mark on the first leg of this tie. Having kept the ball for most of those opening moments, they then sprung a quick attack from a Dasilva throw-in on the halfway line; Brown winning the ball for Colkett to drive forward, and he fed Abraham, who took a touch to bring the ball under his spell before thundering an unstoppable effort past Kjetil Haug into the top corner.
They switched off though, and City were able to restore parity within three minutes. Colkett this time turned possession over close to the halfway line, allowing dangerman Brandon Barker to collect and dribble his way into Chelsea territory. He found Buckley in the box and gave him enough time and space for a well-placed shot to beat Collins for 1-1.
Collins then had to be alert to make a fine reaction save to keep out Clarke-Salter’s inadvertent effort on his own net as he tried to clear Nemane’s cross following good work out wide against Dasilva, but it would be a quiet half for the Chelsea stopper thereafter as his outfield colleagues really began to turn the screw and dictate the game on their terms. They refused to let their hosts play out from the back, instead forcing them into more ambitious passes to surrender possession, and when they got it back, they looked a threat every time they came forward.
A combination of Adarabioyo and Cameron Humphries did well to sandwich a marauding Solanke and then watched Brown plant a shot over from 20 yards out, and a succession of corners then raised several question marks about Haug in particular but the entire City defensive unit. It proved too much for them to handle and midway through the first half, Abraham scored his second when he was on hand to sweep home an acrobatic effort from six yards out from another Colkett set piece.
Brown buzzed from side to side, operating well with Solanke’s smart link-up play, and Abraham provided a constant menace coming in from the right. He had two or three good opportunities to deliver crosses into the box that ultimately came to nothing as the Blues surged into the ascendancy.
City came on stronger as half time drew closer but Manu Garcia’s clipped effort from the edge of the box lacked both direction and power, and Barker’s very optimistic dig from 40 yards out deflected safely into Collins’ grasp to ensure a 2-1 Chelsea lead at the break.
Things became a little more balanced in the run-up to the hour mark following the resumption of play with bright spells for both sides. Musonda dragged a shot just wide of the post and Solanke posed a threat from low down on the left, whilst Nemane did the same on City’s right after besting Dasilva before falling short on his delivery. Celina then fashioned a nice opening in tandem with Garcia but shot straight at Collins.
Brown’s low drive saved by Haug was followed by Garcia being prevented a clear shot at goal by a typically timely Clarke-Salter block, and with Abraham struggling to continue, Kasey Palmer came on with just under 25 minutes left on the clock. He was quick to demonstrate his abilities, collecting a pass from Musonda before heading for the hills, beating Adarabioyo but smashing his shot over the bar.
Barker, who had up to this point been well shackled by Chelsea, started to become more influential and laid on a great pass to meet Garcia’s late run into the box, but the shot came under duress from Colkett and that was enough to force it wide without Collins being required to deal with it. Still, City were finishing strongly and Nemane should have done better with a chance all of his own making, yet contrived to blaze it far too high and wide.
It was Bryan though who had the best of the lot as he pressed high up from a Chelsea goal kick to rob Colkett of the ball and bear down on goal with only Musonda, who had rushed in to provide help, to beat, but once again, Collins was able to watch the ball fly safely over the target. The build-up and pressure from Bryan though exemplified the chance in dynamic of the match in the final quarter of an hour; a far greater purpose and intensity from the home team had asked questions of a tiring Blues team and forced regular mistakes from them.
City threw on Javairo Dilrosun for the final five minutes trying to make good of their dominance but the tie then took a monumental swing in Chelsea’s favour with just four minutes left on the clock. Haug’s uncertain play out from the back allowed Musonda to gather possession, turn and play in Solanke, who did what he does best by drilling home for the 35th time this season and ensuring a goal in every round of the competition, just as he did throughout the UEFA Youth League.
It ensures the Blues take a 3-1 lead back to Stamford Bridge with them ahead of next Monday’s decisive second leg. Tickets for that match are currently on sale priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions and should not, under any circumstances, be missed.
Manchester City: Haug, Maffeo, Humphreys, Adarabioyo (c), Angelino, Bryan, Nemane, Manu Garcia (Dilrosun 85), Buckley, Celina, Barker
Subs not Used: Tattum, Albinson, Diallo, Fernandes
Goals: Buckley ‘8
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Tomori, Clarke-Salter, Dasilva, Sammut, Abraham (Palmer 67), Colkett (c), Solanke, Musonda (Scott 89), Brown (Boga 90)
Subs not Used: Grant, Thompson
Goals: Abraham ‘5, ’21, Solanke ‘86