Under-18s: Manchester United 0-3 Chelsea

When you run out of trophies to win, you win them all over again. You win newly-established cups too, and you win them all with style, substance and conviction.

What happens when you run out of superlatives though? This remarkable, dominant, supreme Chelsea Under-18 team retained their Premier Academy League title on Saturday, overpowering the best the Northern section could offer in Manchester United with a 3-0 win at Leigh Sports Village, and in doing so they concluded an historic quadruple.

Yes, twelve months on from winning the first ever FA Youth Cup, Academy League South and Academy League Final treble, Jody Morris’ majestic young blues did it all over again, and they added the inaugural Under-18 Premier League Cup to their record haul too. That was the first one in the back, with a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in March, and it has been followed in recent weeks by one after the other in relentless pursuit of success.

It should have been closer than it was in the end on the day, and for a while it was. United were handed home advantage by the same toss of a coin that allowed Chelsea to win the PL Cup at Cobham, but this time they were facing the team that had, over 22 games, proven themselves better than Liverpool, Manchester City, Everton, and everyone else north of the divide between the 24 Category One clubs. A team that welcomed back Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong to bolster a squad missing four European Under-17 internationals, and one that had averaged three goals a game since August.

They hadn’t played anyone like the Blues though. Knowing victory here would also ensure their safe return into the UEFA Youth League next season, it was all hands to the pump, with the regular Youth Cup squad reassembled for a rare league outing. Adding Callum Hudson-Odoi, Reece James, Dujon Sterling et al to a group that had lost just one meaningful match all season was a frightful proposition, and they were quick to reveal just how much they wanted it.

Sterling’s fourth-minute goal set the scene for a dominant opening by the visitors, who were quick to find the front foot, and should have been able to add to their lead. The Reds, at least, were able to muster credible responses, with Gomes and Mason Greenwood both drawing good saves from Jamie Cumming, but Marc Guehi and Hudson-Odoi ensured Matej Kovar was the busier goalkeeper early on.

Kieran McKenna’s home team enjoyed the contest much more in the run-up to half time, and they were unlucky not to be given a penalty when Tariq Lamptey brought Brandon Williams down in the box, and frustrated further still when Chong dallied on a clear shooting opportunity and Greenwood saw a low shot blocked by James’ lunge. They couldn’t find an equaliser, and wouldn’t get any closer in the second half.

Switching from a 3-4-3 back to a 4-2-3-1, Chelsea took over. Bright instincts from Charlie Brown and Juan Castillo went unrewarded, but Billy Gilmour doubled the lead on the hour mark, volleying home from the edge of the area after George McEachran had picked him out with a disguised set-piece from wide on the right. And, when Lamptey burst onto the scene overlapping Brown before lashing the third into the roof of the net minutes later, it was all over.

The only sour note was Gilmour’s early dismissal after picking up a pair of bookings for two cynical fouls in quick succession but, even then, the ten men were able to see the game out comfortably to record their 23rd clean sheet of the season. For their stupendous goalscoring antics – topping the 100 mark yet again – it has been the best defence in more than thirty years that has really driven this team to glory.

Records have been broken, new benchmarks have been set, and the bar has been raised for next season. The particular merits of a discussion on how tangibly this success can translate to first-team level are for another day but, on a fine spring day in balmy Lancashire, the plaudits belonged to the youngsters from Cobham.

Manchester United: Kovar, Tanner (Bughail-Mellor ’84), Williams, Bernard, O’Connor ©, Galbraith, Burkart (Baars 78), Levitt, Greenwood, Chong, Gomes (Traore 84)
Subs not Used: Dunne, Fojticek

Booked: Galbraith

Chelsea: Cumming, Lamptey, James, Guehi, Castillo, Gallagher ©, Sterling, Gilmour, Brown (Taylor-Crossdale 70), McEachran, Hudson-Odoi (Uwakwe 75)
Subs not Used: Lavinier, Askew

Goals: Sterling ‘4, Gilmour ’58, Lamptey ‘64
Booked: Gallagher, Gilmour
Sent Off: Gilmour

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