When the FA Youth Cup was still a relatively new thing, Chelsea's academy was one of the powerhouses in the competition. They finished as the runner up in 1958, the first year they'd reach the final (and the 6th year the competition was held). They'd improve upon that performance 2 years later, winning back to back Youth Cups in 1960 and 1961.
After repeating as Youth Cup Champions, it would be a very long wait to see the club reach another final. Things began to change as they opened their Cobham training center in 2007 though, and the addition of some world class facilities allowed them to recruit more talented youngsters.
They finally made it back to the final round of the competition in 2008, losing to Daniel Sturridge and Manchester City. Like they did after their last loss in the final though, they'd go on to win the Youth Cup 2 seasons later. Following the 2010 victory over Aston Villa, they'd be eliminated in the semifinals in 2011. 2012 saw them again lift the cup, the 4th in the history of the club.
The 2012/13 season has seen Chelsea progress back to the semifinals, knocking out Colchester, Charlton, Barnsley, and Derby along the way. While those legs were all single elimination, the semis and finals of the competition are both two-legged ties.
Chelsea will now face their first Premier League academy of this season's run. The first leg will take place at Anfield, against a talented crop of young Liverpool players. Liverpool have had an up and down season at the U18 level, but their U21 side has been sensational.
Like Chelsea, they've yet to face a Premier League academy, defeating Swindon, Histon, Leeds, and Hull on their way to the matchup with Chelsea. More impressively, they've won those games by scores of 5-0, 4-0, 3-1, and 3-0 respectively. In the NextGen Series, Liverpool advanced as far as the quarterfinals. They were eventually knocked out 4-0 by Sporting Lisbon.
Chelsea will be without Nathan Ake for the first leg, as the Dutchman played the full 90 minutes with the first team against Rubin Kazan on Thursday. They'll also be missing Reese Mitchell through injury, as he suffered a broken leg in our last Youth Cup game.
New signing Kasey Palmer is not eligible to play for Chelsea in this tournament, as he already took part in the competition with Charlton. Those of you looking to get your first look at the youngster will have to wait for our next televised league match.
Chelsea's U18 side have generally lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation when the bulk of their squad is healthy, and I see little reason to expect anything different tomorrow. I'm anticipating the following starting XI:
Mitchell Beeney, Fankaty Dabo, Alex Davey, Andreas Christensen, Kevin Wright, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lewis Baker, Adam Nditi, Jeremie Boga, Alex Kiwomya, Islam Feruz
It wouldn't surprise me if any of John Swift, Connor Hunte, Isak Ssewankambo, or Dion Conroy are involved. The back line will likely need some shuffling with Ake not available and Danny Pappoe being too old to take part, so either Conroy or Ssewankambo would make some sense if we wanted to keep Andreas Christensen at right back. Baker could play either wing if Adi Viveash wanted to start Swift, and Hunte can play on the wing or behind Feruz.
Kickoff and Viewing:
The game is scheduled to kickoff form Anfield tomorrow at 7:45 PM GMT, which is 2:45 PM EST and 11:45 PM PST here in the United States. Those hoping to watch the game will be in luck, as it will be streamed live on Chelsea TV. Pregame coverage will begin at 6:30 PM GMT.