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Preview: Youth Cup Campaign Commences

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The trophy trail begins tonight (Thursday) for Chelsea's young players with an FA Youth Cup tie away against Stevenage Borough. The prestigious and long-running competition for under 18s is a break from the usual league routine for the Chelsea Academy, this the only knockout competition during the season. Academy football is, naturally, far more about developing players for first team careers than results or trophies, but the FA Youth Cup remains special according to Chelsea's youth team coach Paul Clement (pictured). 'It is the younger sibling of the senior FA Cup, which is the biggest cup competition in the world, and the Youth Cup follows the format,' he explains. 'All the lower league teams play qualifiers and you get the odd fairy tale story where a lower league club can have a good run. In some ways, it is even more special than the FA Cup in that you don't get so many tries at it. 'When you are a senior player, you have a go year in, year out whereas in the Youth Cup, if you are lucky and are a talented schoolboy, the most you get is three chances. With the size of squads now, some boys might only get one try.' Though the FA Youth Cup cannot match the FA Cup's 135-year history, it still has a great tradition. It began in 1952 and in recent years has gained wide exposure with the two-legged final screened live on television. It is the competition in which Joe Cole and Michael Owen to name just two were first seen in action by a wide audience. Chelsea's early participation was rewarded with the success of back-to-back trophy wins in 1960 and 1961 after finishing runners-up in 1958. Since then the record is unremarkable. Our last semi-final was in 1973 and the most recent quarter-final appearance was a decade ago when John Terry was still a member of the squad. 'In recent years the club has underachieved in this competition, going out against sides you would expect us to do better against,' agrees Clement. 'That will certainly be one of the things we will talk about beforehand. The boys and the staff want to go as far as we can in this cup but what we won't do is change the way we play. We will look to build from the back, play good attacking football, create lots of opportunities and hopefully score lots of goals.'0,,10268~3284284,00.jpg The modern method is often to push promising players up to reserve team football at an early age. However for FA Youth Cup ties, clubs tend to use the best talent eligible. 'In our league, it is rarely the strongest teams so the Youth Cup is the good bench mark of the strength of a club at this level,' reckons Clement. 'We will be as strong as possible barring injuries and suspensions.' Captain and England Under 18 right-back Nana Ofori-Twumasi will miss tonight's match through suspension but in line for selection are reserve team regulars such as Wales Under 21 keeper Rhys Taylor, Michael Woods and Lee Sawyer, both England Youth midfielders, the creative France Under 17 player Gäel Kakuta and Slovakian winger Miroslav Stoch. The youth team heads into the match in good form having beaten Millwall 3-0 away on their most recent outing. Tonight's opponents Stevenage are currently managed at first team level by former England Under 21 coach Peter Taylor. Of their youth side, Clement says: 'I went to see them in that last round against Oxford and they play decent football, they play out from the back. The pitch is very good there so we will be able to pass on it. 'It maybe that the players at Stevenage fell short in a couple of areas that prevented them playing at a higher level but the gap is not that big. If we don't play to our potential, we will be beaten, no question about it. 'With good preparation and attitude, we'll go through but we are not expecting to go through without a hard battle.' The winners out of Chelsea and Stevenage will face a fourth round tie at home against either Newcastle United or Shrewsbury Town. Tonight's game kicks-off at 7.30pm with admission £5 adults, £2 juveniles. The venue is Stevenage's Broadhall Way stadium. Click here for directions.Source: Chelsea FC

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