UNDER-19S REPORT: BARCELONA 0 CHELSEA 2
The Chelsea Academy marches proudly into the quarter-finals of the NextGen Series after a superb win away in Spain, despite being reduced to 10 men for most of the second half.
Islam Feruz's opener looked like it could be in vain when Connor Hunte was sent off, but Jeremie Boga (pictured) fired a late second goal to send us through following a spirited defensive display.
After a nervy early period in which Chelsea men twice cleared off the line, the visitors gradually grew into the contest and were the match of our illustrious opponents, who on their own patch entered the game as favourites.
Half-chances at either end failed to produce a goal, until just before half-time a Chelsea counter-attack involving some direct running from Boga allowed Todd Kane to square for Feruz to slot home and give us the lead.
Youngster Hunte was dismissed just after the break for a late tackle and suddenly we had an uphill task, but like their senior colleagues, this Chelsea side has bags of nerve and steel, and held out for the entire second half, despite increasing Barça pressure.
There was to be a Fernando Torres moment too, just like in the Camp Nou last season, except this time it was Boga who would wrap up the win, skipping past his man inside the area and firing low into the bottom corner.
Now it is on to the quarter-finals in our first European foray at youth level. The draw is on Friday.
The Blues, all in white, started well with the added experience of captain George Saville and Todd Kane, who was back from a loan with Blackburn, drafted in by coach Dermot Drummy to complement the younger talents which included schoolboys Hunte and Boga. Feruz, injured for Youth Cup duty last week, was back in the striker's role.
Chelsea probably just edged the opening 10 minutes but Barça showed what could happen if we let concentration slip, their winger seizing on a loose ball and pulling back for the striker to shoot low at goal, with Kane doing well to clear the ball off the line.
Four minutes later Mitchell Beeney made a decent save low down before letting another from Adama Traore Diarra slip through his hands, only for Alex Davey to emulate Kane by lashing the ball to safety before it could cross the line.
Three chances in five minutes had put the home side firmly on the front foot, but Alex Kiwomya was able to work Barça goalkeeper Joseph Ondoa with a low drive shortly afterwards as the Blues felt their way back into the game.
Kane was able to advance down the right flank after 25 minutes, and with no options to cross, chose to shoot, bringing a nervy-looking safe from Ondoa, with Feruz almost able to pounce on the loose ball.
Back at the other end Chelsea had Davey to thank once more as he timed a tackle perfectly on Cristian Herrera inside the area. That started a Chelsea counter-attack, which eventually came to nothing, but the next time we broke forward it would be to devastating effect.
Boga ran towards goal and found the overlapping Kane in the right channel, and this time rather than shooting, the full-back was able to square for Feruz to tap into an empty net and give Chelsea the lead.
Two minutes after the break, Hunte was given his marching orders for a rash challenge. He had already been booked but the referee opted to produce a straight red. It meant the Blues would have to hold out with a man down for 43 minutes.
After an open first half, we would now need to shut down the spaces in our half and maintain discipline against a Barça side in the mould of their senior team. Dermot Drummy changed the shape to 4-4-1, with Feruz up front alone, his task now to chase loose balls and Barça defenders.
As the half wore on, Barça took more and more control, but were unable to produce any clear-cut chances, relying instead on long-range efforts that were of little to no trouble for Beeney.
One scrambled corner following a sliced clearance from the Chelsea goalkeeper had the heart in the mouth, but once again a white shirt was able to clear.
Adama crossed for sub David Babunski 12 minutes from time, but with space to bring the ball down, he opted for a speculative bicycle kick, and shot well off target. Moments later Beeney did well to tip over from the highly-rated Sergi Samper.
Seven minutes from time the keeper parried another effort clear before Andreas Christensen made an important tackle and Beeney once again denied a looping Barça effort. Now Chelsea were defending on the edge of the box, with little prospect of advancing too far up the pitch.
Saville was forced to deflect a Babunski effort wide and then Kane cleared a header away from the Chelsea goal as Barça applied ever-increasing pressure.
Just like in the stadium next door 10 months ago, there would be one late Chelsea chance, and one late Chelsea goal to confirm our passage through. This time the goalscorer was Jeremie Boga, whose nimble footwork inside the area allowed him to skip past his marker before firing low past the goalkeeper into the far corner. Game over.
The excellent season for the Academy continues, and we will find out our next opponents in this absorbing competition at the end of the week.
Chelsea Mitchell Beeney; Todd Kane, Alex Davey, Andreas Christensen, Adam Nditi; George Saville (c), Lewis Baker; Alex Kiwomya (sub Isak Ssewankambo 87), Jeremie Boga, Connor Hunte; Islam Feruz (sub Reece Mitchell 71).
Unused substitutes Ben Killip, Tika Musonda, Dion Conroy, Kevin Wright, Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Goals Feruz 43, Boga 90+1
Booked Hunte 5, Kane 32
Sent off Hunte 47