A dress rehearsal for their FA Youth Cup date a week on Monday it wasn’t, but Chelsea’s defence of the Under-18 Premier League Cup now lies in the hands of results elsewhere, as a 3-0 defeat to Manchester United on Saturday morning leaves them hoping they make the Quarter Finals as one of the two best runners-up from the group stages.
A miserable first half saw Andy Myers’ boys concede all three goals to a United team that didn’t have to work particularly hard for their rewards, although their commitment and execution in every department was markedly better than Chelsea’s throughout. Theirs was a team more closely resembling the one likely to be used at Leigh in ten days’ time, while the Blues used a much more shuffled pack, but there is much work to be done.
Andy Myers made three changes to the team that had beaten Reading a week earlier, handing goalkeeper Ethan Wady a debut while also including Jordan Aina and Armando Broja from the start, and switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation that aimed to shut down United’s talented full-backs and have Henry Lawrence press from an attacking midfield position. That part of the game plan worked well, early on at least, as the Blues disrupted the hosts’ rhythm, but they then handed them the advantage and were never able to recover.
Sam McClelland’s under-hit back pass could have happened to anyone at any time, but it happened to him with D’Mani Mellor in the vicinity, and he tucked away the opening goal with just eleven minutes on the clock. That lead was doubled midway through the half when Di’Shon Bernard, a former Chelsea schoolboy, climbed highest at the far post the head past Wady with the aid of a deflection off team-mate Mason Greenwood.
Greenwood himself had a third ruled out for offside as Chelsea simply capitulated under any pressure. Their passing lacked intensity, accuracy and purpose, and they were all too often found wanting with their decision-making. United were more aggressive in every area and took full control over the contest, deservedly putting themselves out of sight a minute before the break, when a quick counter-attack was smartly finished by full-back Brandon Williams.
Myers reverted to his tried-and-tested 3-5-2 shape at the break with the introduction of both Marcel Lavinier and Dynel Simeu, and it helped his team restore a modicum of respectability to things, though United had clearly taken their foot off the gas by then. Lewis and Thierno Ballo had half-chances they made little off, and so on the counter attack Neil Ryan’s Reds still posed a greater threat. Aliou Traore, who was later lucky to stay on the pitch after a bad tackle on Ballo, sidefooted over at the end of one particularly slick breakaway led by Mellor, who was impressive throughout the morning.
Lawrence had Chelsea’s best and only real effort of note twenty minutes from time, picking up a loose ball on the edge of the area and driving well at James Thompson in the United goal, but even that was an easy save in the grand scheme of things. A late Jack Wakely header caused some confusion in the area, as the ball almost fell to Simeu inside the six yard box, but on a day where nothing went to plan for Chelsea that too went begging.
Greenwood and Largie Ramazani could have made the scoreline more emphatic at the very end, by which time Ballo had been forced off by that poor Traore tackle, and Chelsea were left with ten men having used all three substitutes. Greenwood in particular deserved a goal, skidding one effort inches wide, and having another well-blocked from close range. He’ll be the main man in the Youth Cup match, a match in which the Blues will call upon any or all of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ethan Ampadu, Billy Gilmour, Tariq Lamptey, Daishawn Redan and Faustino Anjorin, and on today’s evidence they’ll certainly need to.
Manchester United: Thompson, Puigmal, Williams © (Devine), Bernard, Garner, Levitt, Galbraith (Ramazani), Traore, Mellor, Greenwood, McCann (Stanley)
Subs not Used: Carney, Bejger
Goals: Mellor ’11, Bernard ’21, Williams ‘44
Booked: Garner, Traore
Chelsea: Wady, Aina (Lavinier), Wakely ©, McClelland, Maatsen, Mola, Broja (Simeu), Russell, Ballo, Lawrence (Nunn), Lewis
Subs not Used: Askew, Ekwah Elimby