Chelsea are through to the FA Youth Cup finals after coming from behind to draw against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. Having won the first leg of the tie 2-1 at Old Trafford, the baby Blues needed a draw or a win to advance, and they put in a very good performance to claw their way back from a Jack Barmby-induced deficit and earn a split.
The Blues were the better side at Old Trafford, and they started brightly here too, with Lucas Piazon in spectacular form. The Brazilian seemed to be in a mood to take on the entire United team at once, and he attempted to do so about three times in the first fifteen minutes, blowing through their midfield before laying off the ball to a teammate. The visitors threatened too, however, and Jack Barmby (son of Nick) drew a fine save from Jamal Blackman as United made the most of their forays into the Chelsea half.
Adam Nditi was being given plenty of space to burst up on the left flank, and although he hadn't made particularly good use of it it looked as though he had given the Blues the lead in the 22nd minute, with the fullback attempting a shot at the near post which United goalkeeper Jonathan Sutherland should have stopped comfortably. He didn't - the ball squirmed from his grasp and looked as though it might have crossed the line before he could retrieve it. Replays showed that it was the right call.
Then United struck. Barmby received the ball inside the box and turned Todd Kane inside and out before lashing a shot off the right back and past a helpless Blackman. The goal was, perhaps, against the general run of play, but the visitors provided a cutting edge that Chelsea lacked, and it would have been a bit silly to say that they didn't deserve the lead going into halftime.
With away goals not counting for anything extra by Youth Cup rules, the Blues were heading for extra time as things stood. The performance - especially the display given by highly-rated centre forward Islam Feruz - would need to improve after the break if they wanted to secure advancement before the 90th minute, and fortunately an improved performance was exactly what Chelsea got.
The passing was crisper and the movement was better, but United's defence looked up to the task of containing the Blues. Lucas Piazon continued to look the most likely Chelsea threat, but the 18-year-old showed some cracks in his shiny veneer when he twice failed to shoot after working his way into great scoring positions. With things not going entirely as planned, Adi Viveash made a change, deploying Alex Kiwomya for Amin Affane.
The move seemed to help as the visitors' back line became significantly more stretched following Kiwomya's introduction, and Feruz took advantage of the gaps that were appearing in defence by laying a super pass into the path of Piazon, who slammed past Sutherland from eight yards with his first touch. Finally, Chelsea were level, and it soon looked as though they'd be outright winners as blue shirts poured forward.
Feruz came very close to getting a goal of his own immediately following Piazon's strike, with his deflected effort skimming the bar following some absolutely superb work from Kane and Kiwomya, whose clever interchanges seemed to completely befuddle United's back four. Chelsea had a few chances to put the game out of reach, but over-elaboration on the break saw those break down. Ultimately, it wouldn't matter, as last-ditch attempts on Blackman's goal were thwarted fairly handily by Nathan Ake and Alex Davey, and the Blues were in complete control of the game when the full-time whistle blew.
So, a 1-1 draw on the day and a 3-2 aggregate win over all against the holders in a cup semifinal. Not too bad from the Chelsea youngsters, but they've got to do it all over again fairly soon: The two-legged final against Blackburn Rovers has its first game on April 20th. Good luck to the lads as they look to go all the way - I can't think of a single reason why they wouldn't be able to.