This evening our FA Youth Cup campaign resumes as the Under-18s travel to the Emirates to face Arsenal in the semi-final second leg, a game that is being screened live on Chelsea TV. The team hold a 2-1 advantage from the first game at Stamford Bridge last week after coming from behind.
In the second part of the official Chelsea website’s preview of the game with Adi Viveash, the youth team manager, he talks about his side’s preparation ahead of the trip to north London, their excitement at playing at the Emirates and handling the occasion of a winner-takes-all semi-final.
With the Academy hunting for silverware on two fronts in these final weeks of the campaign, with Dermot Drummy’s Under-21s set for a spot in the end-of-season play-offs to determine their league’s winners, it has been a challenge to manage preparations for the past three Youth Cup ties. However Viveash accepts such problems are simply a product of working at one of the country’s top academies.
‘It hasn’t been ideal preparation but that’s how it is at successful football clubs,’ he says.
‘If you go into the last month of the season and you’re in a successful programme then this is what is going to happen, but it helps get the players ready for what they’re likely to face if they go on to become league players. People like George Saville at Brentford or Josh McEachran at Wigan play Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday every week, not just at this stage of the season.
‘Arsenal had three players that started against us last week play for their Under-21s on Monday but for them it’s a little bit different. They’re obviously still trying to get results but they’re not in the upper reaches of the league like our Under-21s.
‘We’ve had the same preparation as we had before the first leg last week, with us coming together to train as a squad for just one day before the match, but as a group of staff we’ve managed to get our heads round it now. This is the third Youth Cup game it has been like this so we’re pretty tuned in with it now.’
This season’s Youth Cup campaign has seen the young Blues travel to Cardiff and Newcastle, while also playing at Stamford Bridge, and it is being involved in contests at grounds like the Emirates that makes the competition so valued by the players and staff.
‘We’ve been to Old Trafford and Anfield over the last couple of years, while Carrow Road last season in the final was amazing. It was some atmosphere in that first leg and that’s something I’m sure the players will treasure and I’ll certainly remember despite the result. The Emirates is a special ground, with a massive pitch that will suit how we play, and the players just can’t wait to get out there.’
Goals from Charlie Colkett and Alex Kiwomya (pictured below) helped to turn the first leg around, giving us a narrow lead heading into the return match, with Kiwomya’s winner his third in the last three Youth Cup matches. Having bagged six goals en route to last season’s final, including a brace at Anfield in the semi-final against Liverpool, Viveash believes the forward is becoming something of a Youth Cup specialist.
‘Alex is a big-game player in the Youth Cup. He scores goals in important games; both goals at Anfield last year, at Newcastle this year and then against Arsenal in the last game. This competition seems to bring the best out of him and he’s been excellent for me over the three years he’s been involved in the competition. I think the Youth Cup has been a special tournament for him and he seems to have that lucky charm so let’s hope he gets another one at the Emirates!’
The first leg proved an entertaining contest, a game in which Viveash felt his side deserved their win, but the manager knows it will take an equally strong performance from his players for them to book their place in the final against Fulham.
‘Neutrals have spoken to me and said they found it a very entertaining game and really enjoyed it. It took a big physical effort to produce that performance and it’s going to take a bigger one to get the result we need at the Emirates.
‘The few chances we gave away we obviously need to work on because we know they have a very good front line, with strikers that can hurt us, and that’s what happened with their goal, but I’m excited to see how the players handle the occasion because that’s what development is all about.
‘These young players want to learn what a Chelsea-Arsenal game is all about and I think you got a sense of that at the Bridge last week. You could feel it was more than just a youth team game. The players have been facing each other since Under-8 level and you want them to understand how big it is and to then come through that.’
With the stage set for another pulsating evening in the Youth Cup, Viveash and his young players are now just itching to get out on to the field to deliver.
‘The team are ready for it. They’re looking forward to playing at one of the country’s best stadiums and also displaying their talents, which are worthy of being on that pitch. Our focus is on trying to win the game and we hope we can pose them as many problems in this game as we did at Stamford Bridge.
‘We’re going to the Emirates having won every game in the Youth Cup this year. The opponent we’re facing can’t say that anymore and, for me, that is quite a powerful weapon for us.’
– Chelsea TV’s live coverage of the game, with exclusive interviews in the build-up, begins at 7.30pm. Former Chelsea youth products Clive Walker and Tommy Langley will between them analyse and co-commentate on the action.