Manchester United’s U-18s knocked out current holders Chelsea from the FA Youth Cup this evening. Having gone 3-1 up, thanks to two goals from Mason Greenwood and one from former Chelsea youth Di’Shon Bernard, United were left with a tricky final 15 minutes after going down to 10 men. Bernard went from hero to villain after picking up a second yellow for a silly challenge outside of the box.
With 10 men, Greenwood completed his hattrick to make it 4-1, and taking his tally to the season to 22 goals in 19 starts. The 18-year-old has been at the club since he was five-years-old when he played for the U-8s.
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However, Chelsea went on to score two goals in less than a minute with the clock ticking down. The first came from the penalty spot, although replays suggested that contact was made outside of the area. The game finished 4-3 though, with United ending the game with midfielders occupying three of the back four positions.
It was a fantastic result for Neil Ryan’s team, with the likes of Ed Woodward and Michael Carrick in attendance, as United look to re-assert themselves as the leading team in youth football.
While United have been the most successful club in FA Youth Cup history, winning it a total of 10 times since our first win in 1953, recent success has belonged to Chelsea, with them lifting the trophy for five years on the bounce, and seven times in the last nine seasons. They had gone 20 games unbeaten in the competition before tonight. To give that some perspective, Sir Alex Ferguson was still United manager the last time Chelsea were beaten in the Youth Cup.
However, last weekend our U-18s beat them 3-0 in the Premier League Cup, so went in to the game full of confidence.
But three years ago, our U-18s suffered a humiliating 5-1 defeat against the west London club in the same competition, showing just how much our academy has improved recently.
Former manager Louis van Gaal, as well as Ryan Giggs, David Gill and Sir Bobby Charlton were all in the crowd at Altrincham to see Marcus Rashford and co. lose their 10th game on the bounce.
A month later, Rashford made his debut for the first team, scoring two goals against FC Midtjylland in the Europa League. Days later, he made his Premier League debut, scoring twice against Arsenal.
Nicky Butt, the head of United’s academy, later reflected on the 5-1 defeat, and while he was obviously disappointed with the result, was delighted to see how Rashford went on to progress afterwards.
“My job is to get players to the first-team and the best example I can give is that, a couple of years ago, we were given an absolute doing by Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup,” Butt said. “I was sat in the stand, I wasn’t in my current role at the time, but I was still cringing. But fast-forward two years and we have Marcus playing over 50 first-team games last season – more than anyone else in the squad – and playing for England. With all due respect, Chelsea haven’t produced one of their players for the first-team, and the end-game for me is to get players into the first-team.”
He’s only 21 yet has scored 36 goals for United, including strikes against rivals Manchester City and Liverpool, while Chelsea’s academy has struggled to bring many players to a Premier League standard.
Looking at the line-up that day, Tammy Abraham is the most successful player from the Chelsea side, having enjoyed two good loan spells in the Championship. Last season he was on loan with Swansea in the Premier League and scored 8 goals in 39 games.
The others have largely been forgotten about entirely. Baxter (now 20 and on loan in League 2), Grant (now 20 and playing for Chelsea’s U-23s), Tomori (now 20 and on loan in the Championship), Chalobah (signed for Watford), Dasilva (now 20 and on loan in the Championship), Ali (signed for Vitesse), Scott (now 20 and on loan in Dutch Division 2), Wakefield (now 20 and playing for Chelsea’s U-23s), Mount (now 19 and on loan in the Championship), Ugbo (now 20 and on loan in League 1).
This year, it was United who were victorious and are now through to the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup where they will face Brighton.
United’s captain, Brandon Williams, was taken off with an injury in the second half, but spoke of his pride in leading this team. Williams joined the club when he was seven and signed his first professional contract earlier this year.
“It’s a privilege and an honour,” he said. “I’ve been here now for over 10 years. Even walking out on the pitch with this badge on your chest is special, but with the armband it’s extra special.”
It was a game full of emotion, with United looking secure, to at risk, to secure, to at risk, but Williams said those lows make the victory all the more enjoyable.
“It feels great,” he said. “It’s good for the group to beat a team that has been dominant for the past five youth cups. To knock them out is a real boost to go on and win it. These are the type of games you want to be involved in. You’ve got to adapt to different situations and the team came through and we got the win. You take the lows because you want the highs. When you have the lows, the highs are even better. You’ve just got to focus for the entire game and that’s what we did, so we came out with the win.”
In the U-18 league, United are currently five points behind top-placed Everton, although we have two games in hand on the Merseyside club.
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