Chelsea have work to do if they are to keep their hands on the FA Youth Cup following a 2-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in the first leg of their Semi Final tie on Thursday night.
The Blues played well for long spells but never truly got into their full stride and late goals in either half from Joshua Onomah and Kazaiah Sterling – both the result of defensive hiccups – ensured Spurs have the upper hand ahead of the return leg at Stamford Bridge.
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Coach Joe Edwards had a near full strength squad at his disposal heading into the London derby, with defender Jake Clarke-Salter the sole absentee through injury, although Jeremie Boga was only fit enough to take a place on the bench following a recent ankle problem.
Clarke-Salter’s absence saw Edwards adopt an interesting 3-4-3 formation with Brad Collins in goal behind a defensive trio of Ola Aina, Fikayo Tomori and Jay Dasilva. Ruben Sammut was drafted into the team to offer defensive protection in a midfield otherwise featuring the creative talents of Kyle Scott, Charlie Colkett and Charly Musonda. The potent front three of Dominic Solanke, Izzy Brown and Tammy Abraham led the line as they had so successfully throughout the competition to date.
Spurs included a host of their own England youth internationals; centre-backs Cameron Carter-Vickers and Christian Maghoma along with captain Onomah, and they were on top early on as Chelsea struggled to adapt to their change of tactic. With too much space left between each defender combined with a few misplaced passes, the hosts were quickly able to generate a good scoring chance for Shayon Harrison, but Collins was sharp to kick his effort to safety.
With each passing minute though, Chelsea got to grips with things and began to look more like themselves. A swift passing combination opened doors for Scott, who shot high over the crossbar, whilst Solanke was also off target not long after.
As they looked to build on their possession and confidence, Edwards shifted back to a four man defence with Sammut dropping in alongside Tomori, and Tottenham duly struggled to even worry the Blues in their own half of the pitch. That was, at least, until minutes before the break, when a little fortune went a long way and Spurs took the lead.
Chelsea struggled to get the ball clear but an attempted hack upfield by Tomori careered off a stray leg and took a Spurs bounce; Harrison was in potion to lay it off for Onomah to shoot, and his effort crept under the grasp of Collins, who will almost certainly feel as if he should have done better with it.
Solanke had half a chance to bring about parity before half time but the impressive Kyle Walker-Peters was on hand to sweep up and ensure the hosts went in ahead. Chelsea’s teenage hitman then went even closer two minutes into the second half when a clearance flew into his chest and landed a foot the wrong side of Tom Glover’s post.
Kasey Palmer was introduced in place of a busy but frustrated Scott on 55 minutes as Chelsea upped the ante and they spent increasing periods of time camped in Tottenham territory. Musonda was wayward from the edge of the box before Aina unleashed a humongous throw that found Solanke but again lacked the finishing touch.
The chance of the game then arrived when Brown roared away from Anton Walkes before cutting back to a perfectly positioned Solanke, who seemed certain to convert at the near post only to be denied by a magnificent instinct save by Glover. To compound Chelsea’s misery, Brown had a nasty collision with the advertising hoardings at the end of his run and was forced to limp off; Boga replacing him midway through the second half.
It seemed for all the world as if a deserved equaliser would come but Spurs defended stoutly and with terrific teamwork. A flurry of crosses posed a number of questions but deliveries from Aina, Tomori and Dasilva were swatted away expertly before Dasilva tried twice more; the second almost finding the target via the legs of Glover, but the big Australian stopper did enough to keep it out.
Chelsea were playing with the urgency of a team needing a goal to avoid elimination, and with a second leg to come it seemed a potentially risky strategy. So it proved in the closing stages as a loose ball at the back allowed Spurs to pounce and highly-rated substitute Sterling slotted calmly past Collins to give Kieran McKenna’s boys a crucial 2-0 lead in the tie.
Chelsea will feel they did enough to have scored at least once but lacked a little in the final third and were made to pay by a polished and capable Spurs outfit who hold all the cards now. The Blues are very much capable of turning things around and they’ll try to do just that in front of what will hopefully be a big home crowd at Stamford Bridge on March 18th.
Tottenham: Glover, Walker-Peters, Walkes, Amos, Maghoma, Carter-Vickers, Stylianides, Owens (Edwards), Harrison, Onomah (c), Azzaoui (Sterling)
Subs not Used: Daly, Whiteman
Goals: Onomah, Sterling
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Tomori, Sammut, Dasilva, Colkett (c), Abraham, Musonda, Solanke, Scott (Palmer), Brown (Boga)
Subs not Used: Thompson, Grant, Ali