Youth Cup reaction: Squad strength
news Wed 14 Feb 2018
The impressive recent record of our youngsters in the FA Youth Cup continued last night as Jody Morris’s side put in a professional performance away from home to beat Tottenham and secure a place in the quarter-finals.
Spurs were the last side to win against the young Blues in this competition, a 2-0 first-leg victory at White Hart Lane three years ago, which was ultimately reversed in the Stamford Bridge return. The final of 2013 was the most recent occasion we lost a two-legged tie, while you have to reminisce back nine years for the last time we failed to reach the last-eight stage.
Such statistics and records make for inspiring reading as the class of 2017/18 attempt to emulate their predecessors and lift the trophy again, a landmark fifth consecutive triumph that would match the achievement of Manchester United’s legendary Busby Babes 60 years previously.
Dujon Sterling and Marc Guehi grabbed the goals in Stevenage, the opener inside 15 minutes and the second early after the restart, as Morris praised a calm yet clinical display from his side.
‘It was a difficult and tricky tie so I don’t think it can be underestimated how well we have done to keep a clean sheet and beat Spurs away home without really looking in trouble,’ Morris told the official Chelsea website after the game.
‘I was really pleased with the first half because I thought we were in total control, apart from perhaps a 10-minute spell towards the end. When we switched play, we caused them problems but there were a few opportunities we had to hurt them where the quality of our longer passing let us down a little bit.
‘Our work off the ball in the first half was really good - winning it back, stopping them playing through us and pressing high. Conor Gallagher (pictured below) and Billy Gilmour were outstanding as the two deeper midfielders, plugging gaps and retrieving the ball for our team. The work they got through was excellent and they did a good job of protecting our back three.
‘The first goal was a great finish from Dujon and we were a bit unlucky that Martell Taylor-Crossdale didn’t score another one because he was unfortunate a couple of times. He’s trying to play his way back into some form and he didn’t have that luck but he put in a good shift for the team.’
While the measure of winning in youth team football is at its most pronounced in this competition, Morris also knows such challenges give his players invaluable opportunities to learn. While pleased with much of what his side offered, the manager felt their defensive shape was too deep as the game progressed.
‘We started the second half well and looked in control but there are still some learning aspects for us to look at moving forward,' he continued. 'The boys tried to sit off a bit more and keep a back five rather than a three, which I would prefer with the wing-backs putting pressure on the opposition in possession. We dropped off a bit too much and ended up asking too much of our midfield players.’
The young Blues can still call upon the services of Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has four goals in the competition already this season, and Ethan Ampadu as the Youth Cup moves into its latter stages. The pair remained with Antonio Conte’s first team squad this week in the build-up to Friday’s FA Cup tie against Hull City. Morris admitted his plans required some tinkering once he knew of their absence, though reiterated his belief in the capabilities of his whole group, who he praised for their tactical execution against Tottenham.
‘Sometimes losing a player can lead you to make other changes in the team in order to keep the balance,’ explained Morris. ‘There’s always a little worry when you come away to play a full-strength Tottenham team without players like Callum and Ethan but we knew our squad had enough to get the job done.
‘We covered quite a lot in the build-up regarding the game plan and most of that was executed really well for the majority of the game. I was pleased with the information the lads took on board and how they transferred it on to the grass.’
Our ninth successive appearance in the Youth Cup quarter-finals sees us make the short trip to Fulham, a repeat of our memorable meeting in the 2014 final when we overturned a 6-4 aggregate deficit in the final 15 minutes to triumph 7-6. Further information on the tie will be announced shortly.