There will be a pair of games for Chelsea fans to get excited about tomorrow, as both the first team and youth sides will be in action on Monday. While Rafa's bunch will be hosting Manchester United with hopes of a trip to Wembley at stake, the U19 side will be playing in Como, Italy with a NextGen Series Championship on the line.
Chelsea advanced to the final with a 4-3 extra time victory over Arsenal on Friday, a game in which the Blues started slowly but built into the game very well. In case you didn't see that fixture, here are the highlights:
Aston Villa played Sporting Lisbon several hours later, and also prevailed in extra time (by a 3-1 scoreline). While the Portuguese side were in control of the play for most of the 90 minutes of regular time, they'd fade in stoppage time as Villa took control of the match. I'm guessing quite a few of you didn't watch that one, so here are the highlights of the second semifinal:
Chelsea set up on Friday in a 4-2-3-1 system, and will likely do the same against Aston Villa. There will likely be a pair of changes from Friday though, one due to injury and one because of a late arrival.
Adam Nditi was injured during the game, likely as a result of the awful pitch the clubs were forced to play on. His ankle doesn't look like it will be recovered enough for him to play in the final, leaving Chelsea with two pretty realistic options in replacing him. Lewis Baker has played on the wings fairly often, and a move to the left would likely see John Swift inserted in the midfield. Chelsea could also put Connor Hunte out on the left, leaving Baker in place as they did after the injury on Friday. Either one would be a fine option, and there's a good chance we see both of them at some point tomorrow anyway.
The second change should be far more impactful, as one of Chelsea's best young players has joined up with the squad for the final. Nathan Ake was not involved for the semis due to training with the first team, but he has traveled to Italy and will reportedly be available for selection tomorrow. He'll likely step in for Danny Pappoe, partenring in the center of the defense with Alex Davey.
Ake for Pappoe should help balance the defense for Chelsea, as both Davey and Pappoe are big, strong, slower players. Both have very similar skillsets, and you could see on Friday that they were capable of being beaten by quick runs and slow to cover for the fullbacks.
Ake entering the mix gives Chelsea a player that tends to cover these runs very well. He's not nearly as good as either of the pair in the air, but he's far more skillful than either and reads the game at a much higher level. His presence should help stabilize the back line, and hopefully make the defense a little less open to runs in behind.
Chelsea will be facing a Villa team that generally lines up in a flat 4-4-2, some might call it a 4-4-1-1 with one striker tending to play a bit deeper than the other. They'll be without the services of one of their regular strikers though, as the tournament's second leading scorer, Michael Drennan, won't be available for selection.
The Villians do have a pair of players to watch, in Callum Robinson and Jack Grealish. Robinson will likely be the focal point of the attack, and he'll be a danger making runs in behind the center backs with good acceleration and pace. Those types of runs gave us trouble on Friday, so hopefully they'll be ready for the challenge tomorrow.
Grealish tends to play as one of the wide midfielders in the 4-4-2 look, and also boasts pretty good pace. Most likely he'll be on the left for most of the match, which would make for a very interesting matchup with 16-year old Andreas Christensen.
Just from the few Villa games I've seen in the tournament, this would seem to be a favorable matchup for Chelsea. The Birmingham side don't play the sort of high-pressure/high-line that tend to cause Chelsea loads of problems, instead picking up the pressure much closer to their own goal. Hopefully this will lead to Chelsea's midfield establishing themselves fairly early, trying to push the ball deep to the wings and find Jeremie Boga between the midfield and the defense.
The pitch will probably be a factor again, as it was absolutely dreadful for the semis. The final will be the fourth match played on it in three days*, so i'd have to assume the condition will be worse than it was for our opener. That may play into Villa's hands a bit, as they'll likely be looking to play over the top a bit more than Chelsea.
*Sporting Lisbon just defeated Arsenal in the third place game
Like the Semifinal, the game will be shown live on EuroSport. Kickoff is scheduled for 18:00 CET form Como, and the game will go to stoppage time and then possibly penalties if it's still level after 90 minutes. Win or lose, this tournament has been a great experience for the youngsters, and has given all of us a great chance to see them playing against some of the best competition in Europe. Regardless of whether or not they leave Italy with the trophy, that experience has made our participation in the tournament a resounding success.