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Villa U19 v Chelsea U19 preview: Final hurdle for Villa young guns
Dan Harrison previews the NextGen Series final.
1st Apr 2013
Villa U19 v Chelsea U19 preview: Final hurdle for Villa young guns


Harrison

Development over results has always been the philosophy adopted by Villa's successful academy.

But that long-term vision will temporarily take a back seat when the club's future stars run out at Lake Como's Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia tonight.

There is a momentum about this Villa team who, after losing their opening two games of the NextGen Series, are now seven matches unbeaten in European action.

The tide appeared to be swimming against Tony McAndrew' team when they emerged empty handed from the early group games against Sporting Lisbon and PSV Eindhoven.

Since then, the claret and blues have shown remarkable resilience with five wins and a draw leading them to this finals weekend here in this picturesque corner of Northern Italy.

Perhaps the biggest test of Villa's resolve came in Friday night's semi-final against Sporting but again the Young Lions passed with flying colours.

So, whatever happens from here, there are already endless positives to take from this European adventure.

But assistant academy manager Steve Burns best summed up the mood by stating Villa "are not here to be the bridesmaid".

"It has been fantastic, the whole competition over the past two years has been filled with really good experiences," said Burns.

"But to reach the final stage in a place like Lake Como, it is a fantastic football experience for the players.

"If you think about the quality of the opposition - you've got Sporting Lisbon, Chelsea, Arsenal and ourselves - we didn't want to be the bridesmaid.

"We wanted to get to the final and the boys, the coaching team and the whole backroom staff were superb the other night.

"They showed real resilience and came away in the end deserved winners.

"You need to play nine games to get to the final. We lost our first two, we haven't lost since and we've only drawn one so we are on a little bit of a role and the boys are gaining valuable experience."

The finals weekend itself has provided the young guns with another step into the unknown.

It is a departure from the two-day whistle-stop nature of a regular European tie.

The squad have had to set up camp here in Como for six days, so striking a balance between training, analysis, recovery and rest has been essential.

"What you have to do is find the balance of playing football, training, rest, recovery and recuperation," said Burns.

"The staff are very experienced at doing that and the players are extremely professional.

"The balance has been good but now we've got our game heads on and we're immensely looking forward to the challenge."

Little motivation is required ahead of a European final but Villa's U19 squad are set for an extra fillip ahead of tonight's showpiece against Chelsea.

Manager Paul Lambert is expected to be at the stadium to throw his support behind the next generation of claret and blue stars.

Since his summer appointment, Lambert has taken an active interest in the club's development sides.

As well as being a regular at most of the NextGen and Barclays U21 Premier League fixtures, the he has also given first team debuts to NextGen players Graham Burke and Derrick Williams.

Seeing more of these players propel themselves in to the manager's thinking would be just as satisfying as lifting the trophy for Burns, McAndrew and the rest of the academy staff.

"He has been magnificent, as have the whole club," added Burns.

"The chief executive, the manager and all of the staff have been right behind us wherever we go.

"The manager has been terrific. I ring him after every game and he has been to every home game.

"Hopefully he is going to fly out to the final. His support is immense and when the players see him walk in to the changing room as the first team manager it gives them an extra bit of a lift because they know they've got to perform.

"It is great to be in a European competition, it is great to get to the final but we're here to produce players for our first team.

"If this competition gives them another way towards making the first team and it gives Paul and the first team staff another player to look at then that is what we are here to do."

Follow our live audio and text commentary from the NextGen final, which kicks off at 5pm UK time, 6pm local time.

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