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FAYC Semi-Final (1st Leg): United v Chelsea – Preview

It only feels like yesterday when United advanced into the semi-final of the FA Youth Cup with a determined victory over a very decent Charlton Athletic side who refused to be beaten until James Wilson’s dramatic late winner was enough to finally see them off.

United started favourites that night at Old Trafford but tonight I think they’ll start as underdogs as they welcome a relatively experienced Chelsea side who boast plenty of talent who played in last years fixture at the same stage of the same competition. United don’t have that luxury, but what they have shown during this cup run is a determination and a typical Manchester United ethic of playing right until the final whistle.

In last season’s semi-final United travelled to Stamford Bridge for the first leg and came away with a 3-2 defeat that put them in a great position to advance. At Old Trafford in the second leg, Ravel Morrison got the ball rolling when he applied the finish to a 22 pass move that set United on their way to an emphatic 4-0 win that also saw Will Keane score a hat-trick.

Gyliano van Velzen was the only player to play any significant part in last years ties with Tyler Blackett (absent through suspension in the first leg) and Tom Lawrence experiencing just a few minutes on the pitch each. Mats Daehli also made a very short introduction at Stamford Bridge for his United debut.

Both sides prepared for this game with home fixtures in their respective leagues last weekend. Chelsea apparently breezed past Reading fielding a strong side including Jamal Blackman, Nathaniel Chalobah, Todd kane, Adam Nditi and Lewis Baker from last seasons squad. Add to that the very highly prized asset of Brazilian playmaker Lucas Piazon it’s no wonder they begin tonight as favourites.

In contrast United battled their way to a 3-3 draw against Sunderland forfeiting a 3 goal lead along the way. That was United’s third 3-3 draw in a row at Carrington, so suggesting their weakness is keeping cleansheets is probably not far from the truth, you have to feel that restricting Chelsea tonight could be an impossible task but one that must be achieved if United are going to have any chance of progressing into their 15th Youth Cup final and their second in a row.

‘This group of players are maturing well’ said Paul McGuinness in a recent interview. You have to agree and point out that technically some of these boys are amongst the best United have seen at this age for many years, injuries however have soured what’s turning out to be a really enjoyable and productive season. Lawrence and Rothwell have missed huge chunks of the season and neither return tonight, (so too have James Weir and Ben Pearson’s). McCullough has suffered too but looks set to start again alongside schoolboy Nikolas Ioannou and probably regain the captaincy. Adnan Januzaj has now been ruled out for four months therefore will miss the remainder of the season . Those four players are without doubt four of the best players within the group, luckily for Adnan and Joe Rothwell they’ll get another chance next season, Tom won’t be so lucky so I’m sure he’ll have his fingers crossed his team mates can keep this excellent run going to give him every chance of returning to see at least some youth cup action this season.

Despite the glut of goals United have conceded lately, McGuinness will be confident with possibly his strongest defence available to him tonight with Blackett and Grimshaw joining McCullough and Ioannou at left & right back respectively with Jonny Sutherland likely to regain his spot in goal after a rest last Saturday and a match winning performance in the last round against Charlton.

In midfield and up front the dilemma’s begin, I’d suggest the strongest option would be Hendrie, Rudge and Daehli with Barmby and van Velzen joining in from the front when out of possession leaving Sam Byrne to fill the lone striker role, but with Ekangamene and Pearson pushing for a start, not to mention the form of James Wilson, the manager could opt for a different approach.

As ever the match has the potential to go either way with goals looking a distinct possibility. Jack Barmby will be hoping he can extend his run of scoring in every round while helping United take a positive result to Stamford Bridge for the second leg which as yet has no date decided for it.

Key Battles:

GvV v Todd Kane. If GvV continues his current run of form and gets the better of Todd Kane, United will no doubt create havoc down that left with Tyler Blackett overlapping.

Mats Daehli v Nathaniel Chalobah. Chalobah is one of Chelsea’s most prized assets, he made his debut for the Academy aged just fifteen and also for the Reserves aged 16. Played as a central defender last season he has occassionally shifted forward and played the defensive midfielder role Chelsea’s usual 4-3-3 formation. However, Nathan Ake sustained an injury last weekend that saw him limp off after half an hour, if Ake is fit tonight he’ll probably start at the back with Chalobah in midfield, if not, halobah will no doubt drop back. Either way I think Mats Daehli has the potential to open up Chelsea’s defence with his clever running and passing, if he can avoid or compete with Chalobah there’s every chance United could take something from the game.

Luke McCullough v Lucas Piazon. Piazon is a tricky Brazilian winger-come-forward who loves to run with the ball, his last minute winner secured Chelsea’s comeback to beat Notts Forest 4-3 in the last round after finding themselves 3-0 down. Luke is only recently back the team after injury but has been hugely impressive this season despite some recent rustiness. His ability to read situations helps him find perfect positions to avert any danger when the fullbacks bomb forward and United lose possession.

Kickoff is 7pm with coverage starting from 6:30pm on MUTV, ChelseaTV and ITV4. If you can get down there all the better, tickets are priced at £3 adults and £1 concessions. ST holders and Exec’s can activate their cards for free (visit manutd.com/tickets for more info).

Predicted Team: Sutherland, Blackett, Ioannou, McCullough, Grimshaw, Rudge, Hendrie, Daehli, GvV, Barmby, Byrne
Bench: Jacob, Pearson, Wilson, Ekangamene, Weir/Wilkinson

Updates from Old Trafford via Twitter…….@Rimmerstweets

Ian.

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