First there was thunder, then lightning. There was a brief snow storm at a cup final in late April. But, when it was all said and done, Chelsea won their third consecutive FA Youth Cup title, their fifth in seven years, and their second over Manchester City in succession.
Their remarkable run extended into completing back-to-back double doubles, having also retained their UEFA Youth League title in Switzerland last week, and they achieved this year’s feat with matchday squads comprised entirely of players eligible to play for England. In fact, Joseph Colley’s twenty-minute substitute appearance against Blackburn in the Semi Final was the only Youth Cup appearance all season by someone not able to play for England.
Dan Davies was on hand to capture the best of the night’s action; check out his match gallery HERE.
Last Friday’s 1-1 first leg draw at Man City’s academy stadium set things up well for Chelsea ahead of the return match at Stamford Bridge, and they were given a significant boost ahead of kickoff when Tammy Abraham was passed fit to return after missing out last time with a slight knock. His return at the expense of Iké Ugbo was the sole change to Joe Edwards’s side, whilst City too made a single adjustment with Isaac Buckley in for Manu Garcia.
The onus was on the visitors to make something happen early knowing how strong Chelsea are on their own patch, but they weren’t able to repeat their trick from a year ago when Kelechi Iheanacho gave them a foothold in the tie. This time, the Blues were more commanding from the outset and threatened with a pair of Mason Mount free kicks that looked to cause problems in the City back line.
With little between the teams and things still level on aggregate, Jason Wilcox was forced into an early change when young left-back Joel Latibeaudiere, himself forced into playing out of position after left-backs Demeaco Duhaney and Erik Sarmiento were ruled out, went off with an arm injury. Marcus Wood, nominally a central midfielder, filled in for him but it stretched an already patchwork defence yet further.
Undeterred, they almost took the lead. Aaron Nemane, scorer of their goal on Friday, managed to get in behind Trevoh Chalobah down the Chelsea right and delivered a ball destined for Lukas Nmecha and a tap-in only for Jay Dasilva to intervene at the last. On the other side, Buckley got the better of Dasilva but his cross lacked direction and allowed Chalobah to clear.
Mukhtar Ali was perhaps lucky to remain on the pitch when his foul on Jacob Davenport only drew a yellow card and, with their full complement of players, Chelsea finished the first half well. Abraham found Mount for a left-footed shot wide of Daniel Grimshaw’s post, and the same man then missed the target again from a more central area shortly afterwards. Captain Clarke-Salter headed over from a corner but it looked as if their late pressure wasn’t going to tell.
That was until Dujon Sterling turned up. His energetic chasing of a seemingly lost cause deep in stoppage time caused confusion in the City ranks, and with Grimshaw stranded outside his box the 16 year-old nipped in to steal possession and give Chelsea a lead they never relinquished. It was a huge moment in the course of the tie, earning a crucial aggregate lead just before half time, and allowed the holders to then play the game entirely on their terms.
It took everything out of Wilcox’s boys; after a brief but intense flurry of snow at the interval, Chelsea got back to work and might have been out of sight had Wood not found an inch-perfect tackle to deny Abraham, and although City did get the ball in the net, Nmecha was ruled offside in following up Buckley’s parried effort.
On such moments do cup finals turn. Just two minutes later Isaac Christie-Davies weighed up his options on the left, opting to float a cross towards Abraham, and the talismanic front man did the rest. His prodigious leap took captain Tosin Adarabioyo out of the equation, his header soaring seemingly endlessly before coming back down and nestling in the back of the net via the goalpost with Grimshaw a mere spectator.
There was clear daylight on the scoreboard now to more accurately represent the difference in performance between the teams on the pitch. Dasilva tested Grimshaw’s reactions with a near-post fizzer but a third seemed inevitable, and it was appropriate that Fikayo Tomori weighed in with it in the 72nd minute. Mount’s cross was better than the corner that preceded it, and it was all the big centre-back needed to thump home his sixth goal this season – all since the turn of the year – and confirm that the famous trophy was to be staying in SW6.
Brahim Diaz, Man City’s wonderful little Spanish playmaker, grabbed a late consolation when he took over from a smart piece of play by substitute Jadon Sancho, but it was little more than a footnote on Chelsea’s latest night of success. Clarke-Salter followed in the footsteps of Charlie Colkett, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathaniel Chalobah and Conor Clifford before him in raising the trophy and both he and Dasilva (with a nod to Abraham as well, who didn’t feature as a finalist in 2013-14) becoming part of a very exclusive group of players to win three FA Youth Cups.
The only other side in history to achieve such a remarkable, such a relentless run of Under-18 dominance, became known as the Busby Babes. That is the exalted air in which Chelsea now find themselves and, for every throwaway line that this means more for Vitesse Arnhem than it does the Blues themselves, there has never been a stronger or a louder case for something truly tangible to come from their exploits. To not reap the rewards of the riches within their setup would be desperately disappointing, but that’s a debate for another day. For now, Chelsea are FA Youth Cup winners once again, and it’s going to take a very good side to take it off them any time soon.
Chelsea: Baxter, Chalobah (Grant 77), Tomori, Clarke-Salter (c), Dasilva, Sammut, Sterling (Ugbo 83), Ali, Abraham, Mount, Christie-Davies (Maddox 64)
Subs not Used: Thompson, Wakefield
Goals: Sterling ’45, Abraham ’54, Tomori ‘72
Manchester City: Grimshaw, Oliver, Humphreys, Adarabioyo (c) (Dele-Bashiru ’76), Latibeaudiere (Wood 25), Davenport, Buckley, Kongolo, Nmecha, Brahim, Nemane (Sancho 64)
Subs not Used: Haug, Garcia
Goal: Brahim ‘88