Goals from Willian and Ross Barkley gave Chelsea a deserved 2-0 win over runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool in the fifth round of the FA Cup.
Although those two seasoned campaigners gave Frank Lampard’s men the edge in an absorbing contest and Liverpool ended the match with their celebrated front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah on the pitch, there was still a youthful edge to the contest.
Curtis Jones and Neco Williams lined up for the visitors, while Billy Gilmour was selected in the Chelsea engine room.
Here, we look at how those three talented teenagers fared with a place in the quarter-finals at stake.
The Stamford Bridge masses quickly warmed to Gilmour, whose contributions from the base of Lampard’s midfield were instantly easy on the eye.
A busy presence in front of the back four, Gilmour’s range of passing and calmness under pressure meant he could be forgiven for allowing Liverpool a few too many runs at the defence he was charged with protecting.
A sprayed 33rd-minute pass out of play drew gasps, such had been the quality of the 18-year-old’s metronomic display up until that point, while Mateo Kovacic and Willian’s departures through injury – forcing a reshuffle – did not upset his poise.
Gilmour attempted (26) and completed (21) more passes than any other Chelsea player during the first half – numbers that dwindled in efficiency as the hosts increasingly operated on the break after Barkley bolstered their lead.
Nevertheless, the Scotland youth international was then able to show his combative side, be it gaining possession on nine occasions or grappling with Takumi Minamino when defending a corner. It all amounted to a man-of-the-match display.
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Jones’ part in Liverpool’s 2020 FA Cup campaign will live long in the memory of the Anfield faithful after his stunning goal saw off Everton in round three, while he captained a youthful side to victory in the fourth-round replay at home to Shrewsbury Town.
However, the high-octane opening at Stamford Bridge passed the 19-year-old by at times, with Adrian managing to save a stinging drive from Barkley after Jones gave away possession.
A clever flick in the 18th minute almost got Sadio Mane away down the right flank and Jones’ follow-up drew the final instalment of Kepa Arrizabalaga’s incredible triple save in the 20th minute.
Jones made way for the contrastingly experienced James Milner with 20 minutes remaining. Having been involved in eight Premier League matchday squads already this season, the youngster could certainly have done more to press his case, although 32 of 35 passes completed showed him to have been tidy enough in possession.
Williams’ path to the Liverpool first-team on a regular basis in complicated by Trent Alexander-Arnold’s presence, yet the 18-year-old Welshman often revelled in the thick of the action.
A teasing early cross was followed by a well-judged sliding challenge on Pedro in the seventh minute. Williams remained heavily involved at both ends of the pitch, although a cool last-ditch clearance to prevent Olivier Giroud from scoring was far more assured than a pair of sliced attempts on goal.
As the game got away from Liverpool, an error by the right-back allowed Pedro to streak away on the break – Adrian standing firm to spare his team-mate.
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