Fresh off our third straight FA Youth Cup final appearance in May, Chelsea U18 began defense of the Cup with several brand new players and a whole new management team. With Adi Viveash moving up to the U21 level, the task of selecting the starting lineup now belongs to head coach Joe Edwards and assistant Jody Morris, both former youth players in the Chelsea system. In spite of Jeremie Boga's injury, they went for an aggressive, attacking outlook.
Bradley Collins | Jay Dasilva, Jake Clarke-Salter, Ola Aina, Fikayo Tomori | Charly Musonda (Jared Thompson, 46'), Charlie Colkett (c), Kyle Scott | Tammy Abraham (Kasey Palmer, 79'), Dominic Solanke, Isaiah Brown (Ruben Sammut, 63')
The new men in charge were given a tough tactical test by a physical and clearly motivated Leeds side, who were urged on by a raucous crowd that provided proof of just how much home field advantage can affect a refereeing performance. Bradley Collins's dismissal just seconds into the second half only added to the challenge. But the individual quality in the Chelsea side eventually saw the Blues safely through, with Dom Solanke's second half strike putting the tie to bed after Izzy Brown opened the scoring from the penalty spot.
The match began at a thousand miles per hour, the two sides trading chances, fouls, and mistakes. Solanke missed twice for the Blues, while both Robbie McDaid (dangerous all game long) and Piteu Crouz spurned quality chances for the hosts. Collins in the Chelsea goal was impressing, and would be called upon several more times before the half-time whistle.
The Blues were unable to get a true foothold in the game until about the last 15 minutes of the half -- which also saw them hit the post via a Charlie Colkett long-ranger -- but fortunately for us, we were already up 1-0 by that time. Tammy Abraham, who had an inconsistent, uneven game overall, took on his man and won the penalty that Izzy Brown, who had a consistently good game overall, converted without any problem.
In the second half, down to 10-men, the Blues remained mostly in control. Outside of a few shaky moments from Ola Aina (one his worst games in Chelsea blue, surely) and the central defense's general susceptibility to crosses, Leeds were kept much more quiet than in the first half. Meanwhile, the Blues were a constant threat on the counter and with about 10 minutes to go, Solanke settled any remaining nerves. Kyle Scott, who showed a good eye for a pass all game long, set last year's leading scorer free, who calmly rounded the keeper and despite a scuffed effort, found the back of the net.
Edwards' changes in the second half proved crucial in seeing Chelsea through to the fourth round, as he slowly switched out forwards for midfielders to help bolster a defensive shield that had to rely on Colkett and Scott after the red card. While Scott is clearly much more comfortable in attack, Colkett showed plenty of composure and intelligence, continuing in the tradition of recent Youth Cup campaign captains Nathaniel Chalobah, Lewis Baker, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek before him.
Next up for the U18s, who have lost just three times all season, will be a league tie on Saturday at home against Leicester City who are second behind Chelsea, level on points but with a game in hand in the South section of the U18 Premier League.