Liverpool’s Under-18s face a difficult task in their quest to lift the FA Youth Cup when they take on Chelsea over two legs at this year’s semi-final stage. Chelsea will be looking to put the disappointment of their NextGen Series Final defeat to Aston Villa behind them as they bid to retain the trophy they won last year.
We look at some of the key match-ups ahead of the semi-final first leg which takes place at Anfield this evening.
Jack Dunn V John Swift
The explosive Jack Dunn has scored in every round of the FA Youth Cup so far and his potential was further underlined by a debut goal for the Under-21s against Wolves. Used as a midfielder earlier in the season, Dunn has made the position on the right of a front three his own with a series of eye-catching performances for the Under-18s this season. A potent attacking threat when cutting in on his left foot, Liverpool will rely heavily on his movement and dribbling ability to unlock the Chelsea defence.
Hampshire youngster John Swift is likely to be called upon to deputise for Nathan Ake in a holding midfield role, following the Dutch Under-19 international’s surprise inclusion for Chelsea’s game against Rubin Kazan. Swift played every game for Chelsea in their successful Youth Cup campaign last season, and impressed in Chelsea’s 4-3 NextGen Series semi-final victory over Arsenal, providing the assist for Lewis Baker’s winner. Known for his stamina and work-rate, Swift will need to be at his best to stop Liverpool’s roaming forwards Jordon Ibe and Jack Dunn.
Daniel Trickett-Smith v Reuben Loftus-Cheek
After leading the attack in recent weeks due to the absence of Jerome Sinclair, Daniel Trickett-Smith is expected to revert to his more familiar position as the number 10 in the Liverpool side. The former Crewe youngster has been in excellent form for the Under-18s and will be relied upon heavily to supply the ammunition for Liverpool’s attacking trio of Sinclair, Ibe and Dunn. He faces arguably the sternest test of his fledgling career when he lines up against influential Chelsea midfielder Reuben Loftus-Cheek.
Cultured midfielder Reuben Loftus-Cheek hit the headlines recently when details of his lucrative two- and-a-half-year contract were made public. As playmaker in the Chelsea side, the technically gifted England Under-17 international poses a major threat if given time on the ball to fully utilise his passing range. The physically imposing former England schoolboys’ captain will be vital for the Blues defensively as they attempt to shackle the threat posed by the in-form Trickett-Smith.
Jerome Sinclair v Alex Davey
Jerome Sinclair is the leading scorer for the Under-18s this term with 13 goals for the Reds despite a season interrupted by niggling injuries. Sinclair became the youngest player in the club’s history at 16 years and 6 days, after making his first-team debut as a substitute against boyhood club West Bromwich Albion last year. The Brum-born striker will lead the line against the Blues who will look to Alex Davey to try and curb his influence on the game.
Powerful centre-back Alex Davey will be tasked with marshalling the Chelsea’s defence against the Reds. The Scotland Under-19 international has been likened to a young John Terry and has been the bedrock of Chelsea’s academy side this season. Strong and aerially dominant, the defender will be a tough opponent for Sinclair who is only just returning from injury.
Jordan Rossiter v Lewis Baker
England Under-16 captain Jordan Rossiter is arguably the brightest talent coming through at Liverpool’s Kirkby academy. As one of the youngest players in the side, Rossiter has demonstrated maturity beyond his years in establishing himself as a key member of the Under 18s this term. Tough-tackling with an eye for a pass, the highly rated box-to-box midfielder has personified calmness under pressure all season for the Reds.
Chelsea’s bid to retain the trophy they won last year will be spearheaded by their inspirational captain Lewis Baker. The gifted two-footed midfielder, who scored in last year’s final, poses a major threat for the Reds with his movement and passing ability. A busy, energetic midfielder with good positional awareness, Baker is also a dead-ball specialist.
image: © Ben Sutherland