Chelsea’s five-year grip on the FA Youth Cup is over after they lost a barnstorming Third Round tie at Manchester United on Monday night.
Facing the sternest early-round test of their credentials at any point during their reign of dominance, they were up against it from the start, handing Mason Greenwood an early goal after goalkeeper Karlo Ziger slipped when receiving a backpass. That sent the tone for an absolute thriller, as Greenwood would eventually complete a hat-trick in a stunning individual display, while former Chelsea schoolboy Di’Shon Bernard also put his name on the scoresheet in controversial fashion before later being sent off. Chelsea kept answering the bell with goals from Tariq Lamptey, Faustino Anjorin and Daishawn Redan, but they didn’t quite have enough against one of the strongest favourites to lift the cup this time around.
United’s depth of quality was clear for all to see when the draw was made, but Chelsea’s lacked certainty with Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ethan Ampadu already having earned promotions to the first team squad. They didn’t take part, but the three goalscorers did drop down from the Development Squad – who were also in action against Leicester at the same time – along with Billy Gilmour, who was named as captain by Andy Myers.
Myers was seeking to follow in the footsteps of Adi Viveash, Joe Edwards and Jody Morris in leading his team to youth football’s most prestigious honour, but an unfortunate stumble by Ziger in the opening ten minutes allowed Greenwood to pounce for the first time, earning a yard before drilling low and hard past Dynel Simeu on the line, and the stage was set for a right old battle.
And a battle it was. Yellow cards rained down all night with neither team willing to give an inch in the fight for superiority, although Lamptey’s caution for simulation under the attentions of James Garner in the Man Utd penalty area looked rather contentious. The pocket dynamo was a constant menace down the Chelsea right and would be the victim, as well as the aggressor, in many of the night’s flashpoints.
Despite trailing, Chelsea looked in fair command, and certainly had the better of the chances. Greenwood kept Ziger honest at the other end but Anjorin and Thierno Ballo both had half-chances before Redan was denied by a goalline clearance from United skipper Brandon Williams, and Clinton Mola thumped a long-range try into the very safe hands of goalkeeper James Thompson.
The Blues deserved to be on terms before half time, and they got their equaliser just before the break, courtesy of Lamptey. He started and finished a slick move down the right, collecting Ballo’s reverse ball before slotting home for just his second youth team goal. The previous effort had also been at the Leigh Sports Village when Chelsea won the Under-18 Premier League National Final back in May.
Chelsea were out for the restart some five minutes ahead of their hosts but they certainly weren’t switched on when play resumed. It took thirty-five seconds for Aliou Traore to bulldoze his way through midfield and release Greenwood, who is dangerous with half a yard, let alone half a pitch in which to work. A stepover deal with Marcel Lavinier, and he stroked a lovely finish into the bottom corner to restore the home lead.
Having done all the hard work to get back into the match, Chelsea had to do it all over again, and lacked the gusto to do so for a while. United, meanwhile, saw their already patchwork defence decimated further when Williams was taken off with a knee injury, leaving them with midfielders Arnau Puigmal and Ethan Galbraith at full-back. He had been booked for a roughhouse lunge in Lamptey just before his departure, while Lamptey himself was given a last warning for upending Greenwood while on a caution for diving earlier in the match.
The contest then swung on a controversial decision from the linesman to signal that Bernard’s bundled effort from Dylan Levitt’s free-kick had crossed the line. Ziger had scrambled to make what appeared to be a good save but, with replays not offering any greater clarity on the situation, the Blues will have been disappointed to end up on the wrong end of another fifty-fifty call.
That disappointment bubbled over into frustration when Traore avoided a second yellow card for throwing Gilmour to the ground, and after the handbags died down, Bernard did receive his marching orders for the latest foul on Lamptey. Perhaps ironically, it was seconds after Lamptey had left an elbow on Puigmal, an incident that went entirely unseen by the officials yet might have seen the visitors end up a man light instead.
Surely, it was advantage Chelsea with twenty minutes to go and an extra player, but a misplaced pass left Lavinier floundering, and Greenwood pounced. As he picked up the ball 45 yards from goal, there was only ever one outcome, and he simply glided towards the edge of the area before going with his left foot and completing a memorable hat-trick. His defensive work was exemplary, particularly after Bernard’s dismissal, and he is as good as they come at this level in Europe right now.
Rather than knocking the stuffing out of them, however, Chelsea came again. A penalty was awarded when Maatsen took a tumble under Galbraith’s attentions, despite it looking both soft and outside the area, leaving Anjorin to smash his spot kick high into the roof of the net. 4-2 became 4-3 when substitute Marcel Lewis fed Redan for a chance he just about took, and suddenly it was game very much on.
They had five minutes plus five minutes of stoppage time to complete the turnaround but they didn’t quite have enough. It was United and D’Mani Mellor who came the closest to an eighth goal when he hit the post after good play by Anthony Elanga, and although they had one final corner, the ball fell to Ziger when he wasn’t expecting it, and that was that.
Records are only committed to history when the run comes to an end. Chelsea’s successive wins in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 are equalled only by Man Utd’s five on the spin at the inception of the Youth Cup in the 1950s, and the scale of that achievement in the modern era is enormous. It has been an exhilarating ride, and one they’ll try to go on all over again when they get another crack at it a year from now. If history tells us anything, they’ll be as game as anyone.
Manchester United: Thompson, Puigmal, Williams © (Elanga), Garner, Bernard, Levitt (McGhee), Galbraith, Traore, Greenwood, Mellor, McCann (Mengi)
Subs not Used: Ramazani, Carney
Goals: Greenwood ‘9, ’46, ’79, Bernard ‘65
Booked: Bernard, Traore, Williams
Sent Off: Bernard
Chelsea: Ziger, Lavinier, Wakely, Simeu, Maatsen, Mola (Lewis), Lamptey, Gilmour ©, Redan, Anjorin, Ballo (Nunn)
Subs not Used: McClelland, Askew, Russell
Goals: Lamptey ’43, Anjorin ’82 (pen), Redan ‘84
Booked: Lamptey, Simeu, Wakely