YOUTH CUP PREVIEW: READY FOR ANFIELD EXAMINATION
The Chelsea Academy's impressive recent record in the FA Youth Cup is to be put to the test at the semi-final stage of this season's competition by Liverpool, with the first of two legs at Anfield tonight (Friday). It is live on Chelsea TV.
Our Under-18 side has reached this far in the prestigious tournament in all but one of the past five seasons, winning the trophy twice and competing in the final on one other occasion.
Of course at this level the make-up of the team changes rapidly as players reach the upper age limit but nine of those who have featured in this season's Youth Cup campaign also played in the competition last year, such was the youthful nature of the side that won the silverware, beating Blackburn in the final.
Liverpool this season have defeated Swindon, Histon, Leeds and Hull to reach the last four with Chelsea's route taking us past Colchester, Charlton, Barnsley and Derby. Both sides now face competition from another Premier League club's academy for the first time. It is a mouth-watering encounter.
'We had a similar scenario last season when we played in the semi-final against Manchester United and they were two fantastic games,' youth team manager Adi Viveash tells the official Chelsea website.
'I am sure these two games will be no different. Both teams like to play football and they are two lovely stadiums to play in. The boys will certainly look forward to playing at Anfield, it is a lovely playing surface so that should suit us and you get excited about playing in a semi-final no matter how old you are or what the competition.
'The Youth Cup is a special tournament, we are the holders and it is a big game to look forward to.'
Learning to play two-legged ties is another important lesson in the development of a young player and Viveash will tell his team they need to be tactically smart and bear in mind that while it is rare to win the tie in the first game, it can certainly be lost in those 90 minutes.
'You ask the players for a different level of tactical understanding so we will be challenging them quite a lot over the two games,' he says, 'but every time I have done that this year they have risen to the occasion.
'We have the experience in the squad of quite a few of the players taking part in last year's semi and I am hoping that helps us. It will certainly help the younger players that we have involved. It is a nice mix in the squad, as it usually is.
'These players have played together a lot since they were 13 or 14. The pool has come through together and most of them have been at the club since 9 or 10, so there is a strong link with the Academy.'
A couple have injury concerns that are being monitored going into tonight's game but there is close to full fitness in the squad. Nathan Ake will be unavailable having made his first-team European debut in Russia last night. Another player missing is striker Reece Mitchell who unfortunately suffered a broken leg when fouled for a penalty in the last FA Youth Cup round at Derby.
'It was so unfortunate,' says Viveash. 'Reece had started the game sharply and it was his run that led to the penalty. I am sure it was very difficult for him the few days after but he has been around us and started his rehab programme. I am sure the players will have Reece in their minds when they take to the field this week.'
The squad travelled north by train yesterday and trained at Crewe Alexandra's facilities before staying close to Liverpool overnight.
'We had a good preparation league game at Man United on Saturday and other players got good minutes in the Under-21s' excellent win at Sunderland on Monday so confidence in those players is going to be high, and I think we are ready,' reports Viveash.
'We've been trying to give them rest and recovery because with the NextGen games as well they have had a lot of football, and it is important we get them firing at 7.45pm on Friday evening.'
Entry at Anfield is £5 for adults and £1 for children.
Chelsea TV's Friday Night Live begins at 6.30pm with special guest Lord Sebastian Coe and Frank Sinclair.
In the other semi-final, Norwich beat Nottingham Forest 1-0 away in the first leg.