In the 5th round of the FA Youth cup, defending champions Chelsea drew Barnsley. Barnsley certainly lacked the athleticism and size Chelsea were able to put on the pitch, and seemed content to put ten in the box by coming out in a 5-4-1 formation. Thirty seconds into the game, Barnsley fired a nice looking cross in from the right side to Danny Rose which he expertly volleyed into the back of the Chelsea net. Take nothing away from Barnsley, as the cross and finish were superb, but Nathaniel Chalobah and Danny Pappoe had played the offsides trap perfectly. When the cross was fired, Rose was actually three yards offside. The goal stood, however, and Chelsea would now be forced to play from behind against a team packing the box.
Chelsea dominated the possession in the first half, but struggled to find opportunities inside the 18 yard box. The only good chances they managed from open play in the first half came from distance, with Josh McEachran, Nathaniel Chalobah, Billy Clifford, and Milan Lalkovic all teasing the goal. They did have several golden opportunities from set pieces however, as Billy Clifford and Josh McEachran delivered several beautiful balls in the area of Danny Pappoe. Pappoe missed an open corner on one, and was a real menace every time he was brought forward. Going into the half, Chelsea had looked very good but needed to find a way to get inside the box from open play. Barnsley did look very exposed on corners though, as they had nobody to mark Danny Pappoe.
Thirty seconds into the second half, Chelsea found their answer. Danny Pappoe found an open Josh McEachran from about 65 yards away with a beautiful pass, and Josh took the ball down into the right corner. When the defense came out to close Josh down, he calmly threaded a pass in to the dangerous Billy Clifford (who was playing a midfield role today) and cut into the box. Clifford turned, drew in the defender, and sent a beautiful return pass back to McEachran who calmly buried the ball in the lower left corner to tie the game. Barnsley clearly looked deflated by this, but didn't reshape to anything more offensive.
The second half looked much like the first, with Chelsea absolutely dominating possession but failing to find spaces inside the box. Billy Clifford and Todd Kane had gorgeous shots from 30 yards miss just wide, and Aziz Deen-Conteh left several beautiful crosses in the box that were hit poorly or lost in traffic. As Barnsley tired, Chelsea countered by sending Pappoe and Chalobah forward more as aerial targets for their crosses. In the 86th minute, Clifford earned the Blues youth a corner which McEachran came over to take. His ball was dangerous, heading straight towards Pappoe and drawing all three defenders and the goalie. When the ball got by Pappoe untouched, Nathaniel Chalobah headed home into the gaping net to seal the win. The Blues simply played out the final ten minutes playing keep away at home. Watford now awaits the Blues at the Bridge in the quarterfinals.
There were several things that really stood out for me in today's game. First, Danny Pappoe is an impressive youngster. He's already a very big player by any standards, and he simply dominates the youth ranks. While he's raw, he certainly has the physical tools to be a world class defender. He'll be one to keep an eye on going forward. Nathaniel Chalobah certainly has the tools and ability to excel at any number of positions. He was great in both the holding role and as a central defender today, which is all the more impressive considering his age.
We have two players with absolutely blazing speed. Deen-Conteh and Lalkovic can outrun anybody, and can really provide problems when they just run by everyone sent at them. They have the type of speed to embarrass Premier League defenders, so if they continue to develop they have a big edge going forward. Both seem destined to play as wide options going forward, and Lalkovic will likely be heading out on loan next year. They are both a little raw, but both worth keeping an eye on.
Josh McEachran was fantastic as always, doing exactly what he usually does. He may have been outshone by Blly Clifford today though, as Clifford was hands down the best player on the pitch for this match. His passing was fantastic, he might not have missed a pass all game. His corners were near perfect, and he was all over the pitch defensively. While not as fast as Deen-Conteh or Lalkovic, he certainly has the type of speed and endurance Ramires typically displays for the first team. While I'm still not certain he's the long term answer at right back, his performance today was certainly enough to make me want to see more of him. The kid seems to have what it takes to dominate the lower levels, and having been on the bench several time this year already he looks primed to make his debut this spring at some point. He'll be one to keep an eye on for the rest of the Youth Cup and the remaining reserve fixtures.