U21's book place in Play Off final on penalties
Last night was another big game for Chelsea's academy hot on the heels of Monday's FA ...
Last night was another big game for Chelsea's academy hot on the heels of Monday's FA Youth Cup final. This time it was the turn of the U21's and the chance to book a place in the Play Off final. The play off's are between the teams that finished in the top 4 and much like the Football League play off's it was first against fourth and second against third, Chelsea having finished top of the U21's after a fine season were to play fourth which turned out to be Manchester City who booked their place with their final game of the season.
One of the differences this season to many previous seasons in the U21's/reserves campaign is that despite having a large number of players out on loan the squad for the season has been fairly settled and there has not been a raft of players departing during the season. That stability has been a benefit this season despite being made up of predominantly 18/19 year olds and the team selection for this game reflected that also. Having seemingly seen Mitchell Beeney jump over him in the 3rd position for first team keeper Jamal Blackman was between the posts and in front of him was a slightly changed back four with Fankaty Dabo at right back with Ola Aina usually playing at either full back position was at centre back alongside Andreas Christensen with Adam Nditi at left back. There was a midfield 3 with Isak Ssewankambo swapping a defensive role for a midfield one alongside regulars Lewis Baker and John Swift. The wide players were Charly Musonda and Isaiah Brown with Islam Feruz as the centre forward.
The two teams has faced each other earlier in the season at Stamford Bridge in a game that finished 2 - 1 to Chelsea but was a difficult game and this one would prove to be more challenging for the young blues. The game started in a good way for Chelsea and even though the game was a bit open it was the visitors that would have the better early chances with Feruz coming the closest early on and Jamal Blackman pulling off a good save down the other end but it would be Chelsea who would take advantage of the chances that they got and scored an early goal. Charlie Musonda who was probably Chelsea's most dangerous player on the night rode a few challenges and danced through the City players and played a lovely ball behind the defence which Lewis Baker ran onto, the keeper came out and dived for it but Baker got there first, staying on his feet and pushed wide he composed himself and floated a ball over the keeper and defender to find Islam Feruz at the back post who headed back over the keeper and in the goal at the far post. An unlikely goal for Feruz to score but it was well worked and at that time deserved for Chelsea.
City started to get a hold of the game but it would be Chelsea to have the next big chance when a mistake at the back saw the ball gifted to Brown with an open goal and the keeper scrambling to get across and in his effort to keep it away from the keeper Isaiah Brown put the ball just wide, a chance really that he should have finished. After that the game started to be dominated by City, their powerful players just completely dominated the midfield and Chelsea could could keep hold of the ball and the City midfielders Fofana and Ntcham were just controlling proceedings and winning the ball back and keeping off the Chelsea midfielders with ease, City would have a huge chance to level things and again for them like with Brown it was a chance that really should not have been missed. Breaking though our back four down our left hand side a ball was played hard across the box which for all the world looked like a simple poke in for the City forward sliding in with an open goal but the contact was not enough and the ball went wide and Chelsea would take the goal lead into half time.
The second half carried on the theme of the majority of the first. City still fully dominating the midfield and Chelsea having to work hard in defence to limit the opportunities given to the City forwards whilst at the same time trying to break and create chances of their own, that was proving difficult with Feruz despite scoring having a difficult game either straying offside to easily or not being able to hold the ball up for any time to allow others into play. Both teams would have some chances but neither would look fully threatening and from Chelsea's point of view looked crying out for Ruben Loftus-Cheek to come in and bring some stability to the midfield. That did not immediately happen but changes did come firstly with Kasey Palmer coming on to replace Dabo with Ssewankambo switching to right back and the tricky Palmer playing in a deep midfield role and then the return for Jeremie Boga who has been out with injury replaced the impressive Musonda.
Unfortunately Boga's return would not last long before he took a kick on the ankle and was unable to carry on, his frustration was obvious and understandable and he was replaced by Loftus-Cheek. Loftus-Cheek would quickly finding himself with a big chance to put Chelsea up by two from a corner when he rose well above a crowd of players win the header to head towards goal and beat the keeper only to see it cleared off the line. Shortly after that came a big moment when City drew level. Olan Aina was unable to force the City forward wide and was beaten and gave the opportunity for a ball to be put into the box which fell to Ntcham who turned well in the box and struck the ball past Blackman.
Things would be difficult now for Chelsea as even the introduction of Loftus-Cheek did not help stop City controlling the midfield and it was a rare time to see Loftus-Cheek physically overpowered by players. Both teams were looking for the winner to avoid extra time and Jamal Blackman would have to pull off 2 very good saves to keep Chelsea in it while down the other end Islam Feruz wasted a golden opportunity after Lewis Baker headed to him at the far post to compose himself and hit it past the keeper but instead Feruz lashed at it and blasted it high and wide, it was a poor effort from there and really should have scored. That meant there would be extra time.
In extra time there was openings for both sides but City were having the better of the chances and Chelsea were looking to hang on, desperate defending and good goalkeeping were keeping them in the game, there was a scare when Blackman challenged for a ball with the City forward and the forward went down however the referee correctly spotted the dive and booked the man for it. Chelsea's best chances fell to Lewis Baker. A free kick which hit the wall and went over and a couple of good chances from outside the box, one which went over and one which went wide. However neither team would get the goal and the game would be decided with a penalty shootout.
Chelsea's first 4 penalties were all put away brilliantly by Brown, Christensen, Swift and Baker (although Swift's was close and somehow went under the keeper) and Jamal Blackman managed to save City's 3rd well which meant that Kasey Palmer had the chance to win the game with our 5th but it was a poor effort in truth too close and a good height for the keeper to comfortably save. City then scored their 5th which meant sudden death. City were up first and the penalty was saved quite brilliantly by Blackman, high and one handed and gave a big chance to Loftus-Cheek to win the game which he made no mistake with and saw Chelsea through to the final. Chelsea academy teams really are good on a penalty shoot out and they score some terrific penalties and this was another example of that.
A really tough game against a very good and strong City side was won in the end and they will now go on to face either Manchester United or Liverpool in the final. Chelsea will certainly fancy their chances although will look for more control of the game than they managed in this one.