Contribution by Barry McEvoy
The old cliché “A game of two halves” is certainly suitable here. It was never going to be an easy game for United with Chelsea being the current champions of the most prestigious youth team tournament in the country. With the added strain of one the club’s best under-age players, Ravel Morrison, being suspended this was going to be tough. United coach, Paul McGuinness was forced to play a lone striker, due to the fact that there was only one striker available, Will Keane. It certainly wasn’t ideal as it was Keane’s first game back from a two month lay-off due to injury.
United lined up in a 4-3-3 type of formation. Sam Johnstone played between the sticks, Michael Keane and Sean McGinty in the full back postions, with Michele Fornasier and Tom Thorpe in the centre of defence. Ryan Tunnicliffe played a holding role in the midfield alongside Paul Pogba and Larnell Cole who were a bit more advanced. The top three players were Will Keane, Jesse Lingard and Gylanio Van Velzen who interchanged positions freely.
Chelsea drafted in some of the big guns to welcome the young United side to Stamford Bridge. Josh McEachran, who has impressed a number of times for Chelsea’s first team, was brought into the midfield and was given the captain’s armband. Also, central defender Chalobah made a rare appearance for the Chelsea youths and he proved to be a thorn in United’s side throughout the game on a number of occasions. They started out with a more conventional 4-4-2 formation. The back 4 consisted of Todd Kane, Tomas Kalas, Nathaniel Chalobah and Rohan Ince, they were the last line of defence for Jamal Blackman who started in goals. Josh MacEachran and George Saville started in the middle of the park whilst Aziz Deen-Conteh and Adam Nditi offering an outlet down the wings. The lively pair of Bobby Devyne and Milan Lalkovic started up front for the Blues.
The game started off with a quick pace to it. United were on the front foot in the opening minutes, but the Chelsea defence were quick to stop any attacks. Will Keane did well to get the better of Chalobah on one occasion and pluck the ball from the sky in a style that even Dimitar Berbatov would have been proud of. United started to push high up the pitch to get the pressure on Chelsea, but they were caught out as the right-back Kane made a run up the wing and crossed in to find Lalkovic who got full contact on a header from six yards out, but Johnstone got down well to save it. Some great short passing on the wing between Van Velzen and McGinty forces a United corner – this kind of play became quite a prominent feature as the game went on, it was lovely to watch. Johnstone was called into action again as the corner was cleared to McEachran who played an exquisite ball up the field towards Lalkovic, only for it to be cut out by the United ‘keeper.
Tunnicliffe showed how good he is at running towards defences numerous times during the game, with opposition players looking afraid to go near him as if he was a raging bull. His first of the game results in a decent effort from Lingard outside the box. Chelsea got forward again and came close. A good cross towards Lalkovic forced Johnstone to come off his line and chase the ball down, which he eventually pushed out for a corner. The corner was cleared up field but was won by Kane on the midway line and another corner for Chelsea came from a Lalkovic shot. McEachran put in an excellent ball that caused a lot of confusion in the box as the United keeper was caught off his line and Chabolah was in the right place at the right time to fire it home. Chelsea 1-0 United, 29 minutes.
The Londoners continued to dominate with Nditi going close and the United defence were working hard to keep the ball away from the goal. Pogba showed his touch of class with a great roulette to get himself free from two players, but he was then closed down and the ball was fired back into the United box. The Reds went on the counter attack and Michael Keane puts a great ball in for his brother to score unmarked from 6 yards out, but it seems that he wasn’t expecting the ball to come to him and he missed it completely. Jesse Lingard intercepted a pass to Nditi and puts it out for a throw. This time Saville put the ball in to be met by the head of Chalobah who scored with a looping header that drops in over Larnell Cole on the post. 2-0 Chelsea Chalobah 43 minutes. Disaster. To be fair, they deserved the lead at the break – McEachran was running the show.
United started the second half strongly, winning a couple of corners, but nothing coming from them. Most of the attacking play was going through Van Velzen, Pogba and Tunnicliffe, who all looked well up for it as the game progressed. Van Velzen certainly tried more shots at the goal and forced a couple of saves. More lovely passages of play on the wings with both full-backs getting involved in the build-up play and McGinty put in some dangerous crosses. Pogba showed how good he is again with the ball at his feet as he skipped by Ince and Saville with ease to get a shot off, which was tipped over by Blackman and out for a corner. Cole put in the corner towards the front post, it was met by the head of one of the Chelsea defenders and deflected to Lingard who was left unmarked to fire it in at the back post. Chelsea 2-1 United Lingard 55′.
The players sensed that Chelsea were now there for the taking and everyone wanted a go, Fornasier started off an attack with a pass to Van Velzen, layed it off to Lingard and he attempted to play in Fornasier, who continued his run but was deemed to be offside. Chelsea won a free just outside the United box as McGinty fouled Lalkovic and McEachran stepped up to take it, but it amounted to nothing. Pogba attempted one of the long-range shots that he has become known for after the ball dropped to him from a blocked shot by Will Keane. Michael Keane became more involved as the half went on, playing some neat one-twos with Van Velzen and eventually putting in a cross that was cleared for a throw in. The throw was played to Van Zelzen who attampted to go on a run towars the box, but was taken down illegally by McEachran.
Lewis Baker was brought on to replace Nditi for Chelsea. He was in the action straight away as he’s involved in a move with Lalkovic and Deen-Coneth to set up Devyne for his first goal of the day. Chelsea 3-1 United Devyne ’73. Undeserved on the balance of play in the second half. McGinty put a testing ball into the Blues’ box and Pogba rose to meet it with his head, but he headed it off a defender and it came flying back at him. A scramble around the box and Pogba manages to do an overhed kick whilst lying on his back. That boy has skills. Lingard won another corner for United which is cleared as far as Tunnicliffe, he passed back out the wing towards Lingard who put in a great cross towards the six yard box. Again, Pogba rose above everyone to head it, ut this time he scored. Chelsea 3-2 United Pogba.
The United players started believing that they could go to Old Trafford for the second leg with a valuable draw. Lingard and Cole started to team up and run at the back-line. Cole won a free kick just outside the box, which he then proceeded to take but he put it over the bar. Cole was one of the more energetic players in the second half, after having a quiet start to the game. Cramp began to set in on both sides and McGuinness saw an opportunity to bring on Tom Lawrence to hassle the defenders with his speed and liveliness. He came on for Lingard, who was one of the best players on the United team. Ben Sampayo came on for Chelsea in place of Devyne, who was also one of the better attacking threats on the field. The game fizzled out in the last five minutes, with both teams visibly exhausted. The last action of the game saw another trademark run from deep by Tunnicliffe end in a free-kick to United, which amounted to nothing as Blackman rose above everyone to collect it.
I must admit that Chelsea deserved their win. McEachran was the best player on the pitch, in my opinion. He was a class above everyone on the field, although Tunnicliffe and Pogba weren’t too far behind him. The game at Old Trafford will be very intriguing knowing that Ravel Morrison will be back in midfield and he’ll offer a huge attacking threat that the opposition defenders will have to worry about. The second half was promising for United as they dominated large portions of it, but they were caught on the counter attack on a couple of occasions. I was impressed by both full-backs for United, they were very assured in defence and they were both well able to put in a decent cross and link up with the wingers. Unfortunately, it was a loss but I think United still have a big chance of getting to the final with a win on the 20th of April.
Team: Johnstone; M.Keane, Thorpe, Fornasier, McGinty; Tunnicliffe, Pogba, Cole; Lingard (Lawrence 84 mins), van Velzen; W.Keane (Daehli 89 mins).