Ed Brand watched his side book their place in the FA Youth Cup final with a performance he felt merited the victory and afterwards the Chelsea Under-18s head coach reflected on the achievement…

The young Blues were at St George’s Park on Friday night resuming a 2019/20 campaign that had been cut short by the coronavirus pandemic back in March. Manchester United, the only side since 2009 to have denied us a place in the final, stood in the way and provided a stern test.

However, Brand’s boys were energetic, aggressive and purposeful from the first whistle, swarming forward and using the full width of the field when they had the ball and then suffocating United whenever the Reds managed to regain possession.

The opening half an hour was as impressive an all-round performance you’re likely to see at any level but the breakthrough goal still eluded us before Bryan Fiabema struck four minutes into the second half with the game’s only goal.

After the game, Brand praised his side’s performance levels, with profligacy in front of goal his only criticism at the end of an impressive night’s work.

‘I’m really pleased with the performance, even if the margin of victory could and should have been greater,’ he told the official Chelsea website.

‘For the first 35 minutes, we were excellent both with and without the ball. We were relentless with our press and created opportunities from that but we didn’t take them and a team of Man United’s quality are always going to have periods in the game where they threaten you.

‘We spoke at half-time about not letting our frustrations spill over into poor decision-making and to avoid doing things that weren’t part of the game plan. The goal obviously came at a great time and then we had opportunities to make it 2-0 and 3-0 but didn’t take them so we had to ride out a little bit of a storm towards the end.’

Riding out a storm is always easier when you have a defence yet to concede a goal in the competition and Brand was particularly impressed with the collective effort in recording our fifth consecutive clean sheet.

‘If you’re not conceding goals in games then you give yourselves an opportunity,’ he continued. ‘I know that’s a cliché but it’s also a fact. I always feel quite confident is us defending and the back three did that really well when they had to – the centre-halves put their heads on things and the goalkeeper came to claim the ball, which was really pleasing.

‘We defended really well as a team. A lot of the good work we do comes from the front three and I thought Bryan Fiabema, Marcel Lewis and Myles Peart-Harris at the start really set the tone with their pressing, which helps the whole team defend from top to bottom.’

The squad will now spend the weekend at St George’s Park, utilising the training pitches and other facilities as they prepare to take on Manchester City in the final on Monday night. Brand knows the quick turnaround will be challenging but his own involvement as a coach in the UEFA Youth League, which follows the Friday-Monday semi-final and final template, gives him experience of managing the players’ load in between games.

‘There will be a group of players who train tomorrow because we brought a decent squad up with us and they need to work,’ he explained.

‘We’ll have to pick the bones out of how people are because obviously that was a hard-fought game and some players will need to rest and recover. It’s a quick turnaround but it’s also quite exciting because of that so we’re looking forward to it.'