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Chelsea advantage after FA Youth Cup first leg win

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For a short period on Friday evening, after Xavier Amaechi’s superb lobbed finish over Jamie Cumming shattered Chelsea’s previously unblemished defence record in the FA Youth Cup, it seemed like the unthinkable would happen and Chelsea would lose at the final hurdle.

Having dominated in the competition, Jody Morris’s Blues were going for a fifth successive title, only achieved once before in the lofty history of the tournament. The team to do it? Manchester United’s legendary Busby Babes who lit up Manchester in the late 50s.

Whilst it is far too early to suggest that Chelsea’s continued dominance in this competition will bear as many fruits at senior level when compared to Duncan Edwards et. al., it is certainly fair to say every other club in England pales far behind Chelsea’s youngsters at this level.

However, before the First Leg, there was a strange sense of the Young Lions licking their wounds. Having been comprehensively beaten by Abel Ruiz’s Barcelona in the UEFA Youth League Final on Monday, Reece James’ boys were looking to bounce back.

The first five minutes at Stamford Bridge felt like a training exercise, Kwame Ampadu’s Arsenal outfit were unable to get close to their West London counterparts. George McEachran, Billy Gilmour and Callum Hudson-Odoi buzzed furiously, but a red defence stewarded by ex-Chelsea man Zech Medley stood firm.

Charlie Brown, the latest in the long line of clinical Chelsea Youth forwards missed a glorious chance when McEachran played him in before Tariq Uwakwe spurned two opportunities at the far post. Joao Virginia, the Portuguese Arsenal shot-stopper denied Hudson-Odoi a chance of scoring in the final for the second year running as he tipped away a curling, dipping free kick.

And for the first time all competition, Chelsea’s wasteful finishing was punished. A speedy break from Arsenal, led by the superb Emile Smith-Rowe saw the Chelsea side scythed apart and his clever pass behind Tariq Lamptey was perfectly weighted for Xavier Amaechi. Cumming flew off his line to meet the centre-forward, but Amaechi remained calm and clipped the finish over the young Englishman. His effort did kiss the post on the way in, despite the best efforts of Jonathon Panzo to storm back and clear.

Chelsea started the second-half in something of a daze. Dujon Sterling replaced Uwakwe, but the Blues seemed caught in two minds. Flooding forward to attack, Chelsea were almost caught on the break when Tyreece John-Jules was incorrectly flagged offside, with only Cumming to beat. Daishawn Redan replaced the quiet Charlie Brown for the hosts, while Arsenal shuffled the pack tactically, removing Smith-Rowe for Trae Coyle.

A minute later, Chelsea levelled. McEachran rode a challenge in the midfield to lay through Redan and he stormed away from Robbie Burton, before finishing calmly one-on-one with the hapless Virginia. The majority of the 6,000+ crowd in Stamford Bridge erupted and deserved parity was restored. Chelsea sensed a chance to seize control and several minutes later, they were leading.

It was a simple goal and one that the senior Arsenal side concede far too often. Burton, Daley-Campell and Thompson all failed to pick up Captain Reece James following a corner and his accurate cross was nodded in at close range by his fellow centre-back Marc Guehi. No-one could argue that Chelsea did not deserve the lead on the night, but the manner of the goal was shambolic considering how well Arsenal had defended at times.

The speedy Juan Castillo replaced Tariq Lamptey as Chelsea went for the kill. Castillo stormed forward and his cross wasn’t fully dealt with, leaving Dutchman Redan to slam in his second goal of the game. To add insult to Arsenal’s injury, it was Zech Medley who failed to clear, instead teeing up Redan.

As the clock ticked over 90 minutes, Redan had a superb chance to become the first player to score a hat-trick in the fixture, but he skied over when well placed within the eighteen-yard box. It was probably an easier finish than his two other goals, but his teammates didn’t care.

Chelsea’s second half was outstanding and they never panicked all game, instead just easing their control over the game and getting the goals they merited. Arsenal had it all to do ahead of a second leg at The Emirates.

Image Credit - Flickr Commons, Ungry Young Man / brent flanders

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