It took extra time to decide today, but Chelsea managed to defeat Arsenal in the NextGen Series semifinal to advance to Monday's final. They'll now face the winner of the second semi between Aston Villa and Sporting Lisbon, which is scheduled to kick off in just about an hour and a half.
I'm not going to do a full match report for this one, for that you can read the Chelsea official site. I am going to share a few thoughts about the game though, as there were definitely some things to be taken from the performance.
- First and foremost, the central midfield was just excellent today. It would have been impossible to tell that the trio of Lewis Baker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and Jeremie Boga were actually considerably younger than their opposition, as they were calm and composed for the majority of the match. One of the biggest weaknesses of the first team is one of our biggest strengths at the youth level.
- I was pleased with the reaction of Chelsea to Arsenal's early pressure. There was no way that they'd be able to sustain that sort of effort for 90 minutes, and Chelsea simply rode it out as best they could. While Arsenal probably could have had another goal in the early going, Chelsea did well to simply play it safe until they had to back off.
- Arsenal's goalkeeper was just excellent today. I'm sure anyone that saw the second goal (Baker) is probably laughing at that statement, but he really did a nice job at keeping the score to 4-3. Chelsea had plenty of opportunities to increase their total, and the fact that they were limited to just 4 is a testament to how well the keeper actually played.
- Alex Kiwomya is unbelievably fast and explosive. He was routinely running past a fullback known for his quickness, and set up quite a few opportunities due to his speed. He's raw, but he'll certainly be one to watch.
- Chelsea looked very vulnerable from the left side today. While that was due in large part to the left back (Wright) struggling with Arsenal's attackers, the centerback pairing of Danny Pappoe and Alex Davey were awfully slow to close down the crossing lanes.
- That pitch was just terrible. It's too bad that the semis and final of this tournament have to be played on that garbage surface, as it really isn't conducive to the level of play that was shown today. While traveling was likely a great experience, the field was just awful.
- Full credit has to go to Arsenal for a fantastic comeback. Chelsea were controlling the game up 3-1 with ten minutes to play, and the Gunners did well to force extra time.
- Between Manchester United and the NextGen Final on Monday, we're going to have a lot to write about.
The final is scheduled for 17:30 CET on Monday, and will be shown live on EuroSport. We'll have a little more on it as the game approaches, and after we find out who we'll be playing.