On Friday night at St George's Park, the national football centre, Chelsea Under-18s take on Manchester United for a place in the final of the resumed 2019/20 FA Youth Cup. You can watch how the team get on live on BT Sport, kick-off 7:45pm.
The young Blues have cruised into the last-four stage, beating Huddersfield Town, Bradford City, Wolves and Millwall without conceding a goal. The aggregate score over those four games is 17-0, although two goalscorers will be unavailable for selection by head coach Ed Brand when we take on United tomorrow - Armando Broja and Ian Maatsen have since departed on loan to Vitesse and Charlton Athletic respectively.
Since our quarter-final win over Milwall at Stamford Bridge in February, Tino Anjorin has made his Premier League debut, signed a new long-term contract at Chelsea, won the Premier League 2 title with the development squad and scored on his return to action in PL2 after injury.
The 18-year-old, who has captained the side in the Youth Cup in this disrupted and delayed campaign, believes motivation among the group is stronger than ever despite the eight-month pause in the competition's latter stages. For context, the Reds are the only side to have beaten us in the Youth Cup since the 2013 final, their 4-3 win in the third round in 2018/19 ending our run of five consecutive trophy triumphs.
‘We're all buzzing to be able to finish the competition,' he tells the official Chelsea website as we begin our build-up to the semi-final. 'We all understood why but we were devastated when we heard the game against Man United at Stamford Bridge wasn’t going ahead back in March.
‘When we heard the news that we were going to play it, we all quickly regained focus because of all the hard work we did to get to where we are now. The fire in our stomachs to not only progress but to win this competition is back and we are ready for the game.'
Getting the ‘Youth Cup squad’ back together has not been a hard process according to the midfielder who says, with the addition of some young players, training has intensified in recent days.
‘A lot of us play in the development squad together already, which means we've been playing and training together for a while and we’ve got a real team bond,’ continues Anjorin. ‘With the additions of some of the younger players, training is competitive and intense. You can see everyone has upped their game ahead of Friday.
‘We were immediately switched on once the news broke. The Youth Cup is a massive thing for our club and its history. We are all winners at this club and we want to finish off what we started all those months ago.’
Anjorin is the only player in the squad to have played at this stage of the competition before, scoring against Arsenal in the 2017/18 final, and he hopes he can use his experience to help his team-mates through what will be one of the biggest games in their careers to date.
‘To reach a final takes serious dedication, motivation, team work and a good squad bond,' he explains. 'It’s not just the starting 11 that have to do a job, it’s the club as a whole - coaching staff, players who don’t make the squad and substitutes. Everyone needs to come together and play their part against what is always a very strong Manchester United youth team.
‘I know the feeling of playing at this late stage of the competition so I can talk to people. I can talk them through all the different points in matches at this stage but it’s not only talking I can do. I hope I can lead by example and show my team-mates the way.
‘Reaching the final would mean everything. It’s been almost a year since we started this journey and all we’ve been thinking about is winning the Youth Cup so we will do whatever it takes to pass the test of United.'
The Youth Cup is always a big occasion at Chelsea and our recent history in the competition is nothing short of remarkable; seven triumphs in the past 10 years and a further runners-up place in there too. The latter stages would ordinarily draw a big crowd to the Bridge to support the next generation of Academy talent, however with the games at St George's Park in Burton upon Trent this year, Anjorin says the squad will feel the support from home instead and believes it will help them through the game.
‘Playing at Stamford Bridge is everything to us but we've got to focus on what we can control at St George’s Park,' he adds.
'We will miss out on fans being there which is massive for young players but we know that the support is there still and everyone will be watching from home. That will drive us through.‘
-In the second part of our semi-final preview tomorrow, we'll hear the thoughts of head coach Ed Brand. You can watch the semi-final live on BT Sport on Friday 30 October, kick-off 7.45pm. There will also be exclusive coverage from St George's Park on our @chelseafc Twitter account and highlights available right here after the final whistle.