The 2015-16 FA Youth Cup Final is finely poised at the halfway stage following a tight 1-1 draw between Manchester City and Chelsea at the City Academy Stadium on Friday night.
Each side enjoyed spells in the ascendancy as the country’s two strongest academies squared off in the showpiece Under-18 occasion for the second year running, and although it was Chelsea who opened the scoring early in the second half courtesy of Mason Mount’s well-taken goal, but Aaron Nemane’s fine equaliser gave City a deserved share of the spoils and sets things up well for when the two teams reconvene at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.
If Chelsea’s UEFA Youth League-winning exploits in Switzerland didn’t affect their preparation for the domestic final then a training injury to talismanic forward Tammy Abraham certainly did. Iké Ugbo was pressed into action up front in his absence in a side featuring plenty more changes from Adi Viveash’s latest Under-19 vintage. Brad Collins, Ola Aina, Charlie Colkett and Kasey Palmer are too old for this competition and so Nathan Baxter, Jay Dasilva, Ruben Sammut and Mason Mount came into the fold, whilst Isaac Christie-Davies replaced Kyle Scott and Trevoh Chalobah came in for Jacob Maddox, with Dujon Sterling moved into a more advanced role.
The changes helped ensure there were some fresh legs in the side and Chelsea started well, looking the more confident team and playing with a swagger that comes with being the holders. Chalobah in particular displayed keen endeavour down the right and quickly provided a chance for Ugbo, who found home goalkeeper Daniel Grimshaw in good form low to his left.
He did then go on to have something of a hiccup when he misjudged Dasilva’s hanging cross from the left only to be bailed out by his goalframe, but his handling was fine from Mukhtar Ali’s long-range stinger and allowed his side to eventually play their way into the game whilst still on level terms.
It took half an hour or so for Jason Wilcox’s boys to ask a serious question of Baxter in the Chelsea goal but, when they did, it came with the clearest chance of the game. Lukas Nmecha, who has enjoyed a prolific first season as a scholar, bore down on goal from the left with just the Blues’ stopper to beat but he couldn’t, instead watching as his shot was expertly beaten away.
Baxter was then beaten by a rasping shot by Spanish starlet Brahim Diaz but it was always rising and cleared the crossbar by a foot or more, yet it was enough to remind Joe Edwards and company that there was a potent home threat to be reckoned with. Chelsea threatened twice more before the break but Dujon Sterling prodded over from a good position and Ugbo looked certain to get on the end of a teasing Christie-Davies delivery before Joel Latibeaudiere intervened.
The goals did finally arrive early in the second half. Chelsea struck first as Sterling and Chalobah made good ground on the right and it was the former who pulled the ball back for Mount to confidently sweep beyond Grimshaw for 1-0. The 17 year-old has enjoyed a spectacular campaign on all fronts and had added a goal to his two assists against Anderlecht last Friday in European action.
It sparked changes from both sides with City introducing the always-busy Isaac Buckley, but Chelsea looked comfortable. Centre-backs Jake Clarke-Salter and Fikayo Tomori dealt expertly with much of what was thrown at them (not to mention some fine build-up play from the back) and had Baxter to help out when needed, as he was when Nmecha threatened to ghost in behind.
It was going to take something special to find a way through and Nemane duly obliged when he whipped a ferocious curling effort into the top former from the edge of the area to equalise midway through the second half. It was generally deserved and was almost 2-1 moments later when Buckley rippled the side netting as he lashed a bouncing ball towards the target.
Back came Chelsea with Dasilva teasing a ball between goalkeeper and defence without finding reward, and Maddox came on for Ugbo to operate as a false nine, something Sterling had done for a lot of the evening with Ugbo putting in the hard graft in wide areas. It was Sterling who came closest to re-establishing the lead when he found a pocket of space from the edge of the area but there again was Grimshaw to leave things all square ahead of next Wednesday’s return date, and away goals not playing a part.
Tickets remain available for the match at Stamford Bridge priced at £5 for adults and £3 for concessions, and with East Lower sold out and West Lower close behind, a healthy crowd is expected. All tickets must be purchased by 4pm on the day of the game and there are no sales on the door.
Manchester City: Grimshaw, Oliver, Humphreys, Adarabioyo ©, Latibeaudiere (Wood 90), Davenport, Nmecha, Kongolo, Nmecha (Sancho 90), Garcia (Buckley 59), Brahim
Subs not Used: Haug, Dele-Bashiru
Goal: Nemane ‘68
Chelsea: Baxter, Chalobah (Grant 78), Tomori, Clarke-Salter ©, Dasilva, Sammut, Sterling, Ali (Scott 62), Ugbo (Maddox 71), Mount, Christie-Davies
Subs not Used: Thompson, Wakefield
Goal: Mount ‘51