A pair of penalties from Graham Burke were the difference in a tightly contested affair at Stadio Giuseppe Sinigaglia in Como, Italy, as the Aston Villa U19s prevailed 2-0 over the Chelsea U19s in the NextGen Series final. Chelsea were on top for much of the first half, but Villa struck first in the 49th minute, Burke converting from the spot after Callum Robinson was fouled in the area. From there it was Villa dictating the action, and though Chelsea didn't go down without a fight, the resolve was just strong enough. The game was put to bed right on the final whistle, with Burke once again converting from the spot with Jack Grealish winning the penalty this time around.
The kids dropped their first two group stage games, but they wouldn't lose another the rest of the way, finishing with a run of six straight wins during which they outscored the opposition 15-3. While there's a tendency among some to be skeptical of the quality of the academy these days, this is an impressive feat that Villa fans ought to feel pretty good about. This isn't the reserve league, where teams often feature first-team castoffs and the level of competition is roughly as unequal as it is at the top level; the clubs in the NextGen Series boast the most highly rated academies in Europe, and the teams they fielded were comprised of their best prospects.
That's not to say anyone should start setting aside cash to buy tickets to the 2016 Champions League final, of course. Most of these kids won't go on to become world class players, and even if one or two of them do they won't be around for very long unless the first team can pull itself out of the cellar. But it's certainly better to have one of the better youth systems in the world than to not, and the odds are very good that we'll be seeing a few of these kids make a positive contribution over the next few years. If your academy is producing players capable of making a Premier League squad and holding their own, it's doing its job.
So congrats, Villa youngins. We all needed a pick-me-up after yesterday, and you've given it to us. Now if you could just come in and return the club to its former glory, we'll be all set.