Blues emerging talent seek cup success

Remi Walker
Remi Walker

Blues Under-16s face Liverpool Under-16s in the final of the Blades Cup on Tuesday evening (7.30pm).

The showdown, at Stocksbridge Park Steels, is the culmination of a rather unique competition that seeks to provide the youngsters with a different challenge.

A four-team test set up by Sheffield United, Blues defeated Manchester United over two legs in the Semi-Final in order to face the Reds.

Mike Dodds, Blues Lead Youth Development and Under-16s Coach, said: “It’s a mini-cup competition. We try to put the boys into a slightly different scenario in terms of regular Saturday games programme. We put a little more emphasis on actually going to win the game, whereas Saturday is a more developmental-based.

“It’s trying to put the boys into a different environment in terms of preparation, trying to win the games, playing under the lights, trying to get a bit of a crowd there. It’s giving them a different experience to the week to week Academy programme."

Dodds, who is assisted by former Blues defender Marcos Painter, continued: "It’s good for the coaches. We put more of a tactical emphasis on it. On a week to week basis we will be working from our Academy syllabus, which is a little less tactical based.

“In the first leg of the Semi-Final (at Alvechurch), we lost 4-2 and we felt the scoreline flattered Man United a bit. Although we felt there were a few things in the game we needed to correct.

“There was a reason why we lost the game, so we addressed that with the group and changed the tactical element.

“We did really well in the second leg (Blues won 4-0 at Altrincham). We always felt going into it we would do quite well.

“So it’s a really, really good mini-tournament for the players and the staff in terms of what would it look like at 23s, First Team, the preparation, sports science, the tactical side of it.”

Blues adopted a 4-1-4-1 in the first leg against United, and 'flatlined' somewhat as the Semi-Final went on, which allowed United to score three goals in quick time.

Dodds said for the return, Blues adopted a 'kind of 3-3-4, a high front four to pin their backline back, to get a real high press - and it worked really well'.

Blues have had Liverpool watched and will adapt their set-up accordingly again.

"The boys seem in a really good place," said Dodds. "We know it will be a hard game, they have got some good players, but we think our 16s group have some good players too. They are a good group.

“What helps is that they have been with the Football Club since the age of nine. So they have had a consistent message from the Academy programme.

“One thing we have done with them, especially over the last two years, is try to put them into as many difficult scenarios as possible. Playing with less men, for example. In the Semi-Final second leg we had a boy who was sent-off so we had to play 20 minutes with 10 men. But because they had already been put in those scenarios, they knew how to cope.

“We are fortunate with the group. The nucleus of that team has been here a very, very long time.

" We have had a couple of additions. Kade Craig has come in, from Wolves, he has been a positive addition.

“Our midfield boys suit in terms of how we want to play: Remi Walker, Aidan Finnegan, Josh Williams, Alf Chang – all very technical.

“Then we are very fortunate that we have got Jude Bellingham who, in the top area of the pitch, can create anything. Then there’s Ramello Mitchell, whose pace and power can cause problems.

“We have got a really good mix."

At Leeds United on Saturday, there were five Under-16s players who finished the Under-18s match against Blues hosts.

“There's no better feeling than when, in the last 15 minutes, you have five Under-16s on the pitch," said Dodds. “It’s what we are about.

“Although this Blades Cup we put more emphasis on the competition side of it, we have still got to keep one eye on these players we are trying to get into the First Team. We have to look at that development side of it.

“It would have been very easy for us to go to Leeds and put our strongest side out (in the Under-16s). But some of those boys need a different challenge. They have played Under-16s football for almost 12 months, they are ready for that next challenge.

“But it is nice when you put them back together again and go ‘you know what? It’s not a bad group’. I am looking forward to the Final, so are the boys.”