The semi-finals of this season’s FA Youth Cup kick off this month with Blackpool under-18s hosting Arsenal under-18s in the first leg of their tie on Tuesday, 23rd March.
In the other semi-final, Birmingham City’s under-18s take on Chelsea’s counterparts in their first leg on Wednesday, 4th April.
The Betfair football betting odds have Chelsea as favourites to win this season’s competition. The West London club have won the FA Youth Cup in each of the past four seasons, including last year’s 6-2 aggregate thrashing of Manchester City. In 2016 it was the same two teams in the final with Chelsea coming out 4-2 winners over two legs.
League One outfit Blackpool have made a sensational run in this season’s FA Youth Cup, beating Blackburn Rovers 3-2 in their quarter-final to set up a trip to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium next month: a great opportunity for the Lancashire side’s youngsters to gain some experience.
Arsenal’s young players will be hoping to break into the first team of the Premier League giants one day so Blackpool could be facing some future stars over the two legs. The Gunners’ academy currently sit third in the top flight of the youth Premier League and would go top of the table winning the games they have in hand over Leicester City and Liverpool.
One of those potential Arsenal stars is 18-year-old centre-back Daniel Ballard who has already shown good leadership for the youth team, both in the league and cup competition. Although born in Stevenage, England he currently represents Northern Ireland at under-19 level.
Pacey winger Xavier Amaechi celebrated his 17th birthday at the start of the year by signing his first professional contract. The teenager has scored a couple of goals at youth level this season and should be one to look out for in the semi-finals.
Part of the England under-17s side that won the World Cup at their level last year, striker Emile Smith-Rowe, has been prolific for Arsenal’s under-18s and seemingly has a bright future ahead of him. A clinical finisher who can also take a free kick.
Fellow striker, Eddie Nketiah, is prolific at this level but may not feature in the semi-finals after recently being named as a substitute for the senior team a couple of times. The name may already be familiar with football fans – Nketiah scored a brace as a substitute in the EFL Cup victory over Norwich City earlier this season.
Birmingham City reached the semi-finals of this season’s FA Youth Cup with impressive victories over Bristol City, Sheffield United, Bury and Norwich City in the earlier rounds.
To encourage supporters to watch their stars of the future, tickets for the first leg at St Andrew’s are only £1.
Meanwhile, regular Chelsea overcame Scunthorpe United, West Bromwich Albion, Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham. The Blues are the defending champions and have won the Cup for each of the past four seasons and six of the last eight.
Despite their success in the Cup, Chelsea’s youth team only sit sixth out of 12 in the league table currently.
One player in Chelsea’s under-18s who was a star of the England under-17s that won the World Cup last summer was forward Callum Hudson-Odoi. The pacey winger is a goalscorer who is the Blues’ top scorer in this season’s Youth Cup, with five goals. Hudson-Odoi scored a goal in last season’s 6-2 aggregate final victory over Manchester City.
18-year-old Martell Taylor-Crossdale is the central striker for Chelsea and is an England under-18 international. He has been at the club since the age of eight and has been a prolific goalscorer for several years.
The younger brother of Josh, George McEachran plays in a more advance midfield role in the number 10, dictating play with his left foot. He was a regular in Steve Cooper’s England under-17s side, which included playing 87 minutes in the final last summer.
Physical defender Jonathan Panzo is still only 17 years old but you can expect a dominant performance from the centre-back in Chelsea’s two-legged semi-final against Birmingham City. Panzo was also part of the England under-17 side that won the World Cup in India last summer, playing the full 90 minutes in the final.
Other notable names in Chelsea’s current youth squad are Trevoh Chalobah, Dujon Sterling and Cole Dasilva. Sterling has been named on the substitutes bench in the Premier League for the senior team this season whilst Dasilva joined the Blues along with his two brothers from Luton Town. Cole can play both left-back and down the left wing.
The second leg of these semi-finals will take place in April before the two-legged final which will be played at the home grounds of the finalists. Should Arsenal and Chelsea reach the final as expected it would set up two games well worth attending to view some of tomorrow’s stars.