UEFA YOUTH LEAGUE REPORT: BASEL 1 CHELSEA 2
Second-half goals from Lewis Baker and John Swift were enough to earn our Under-19s a fifth consecutive win in Europe this season. Basel netted a late penalty but it was not enough to give them anything from another open UEFA Youth League game.
A first half full of chances saw none converted. Baker was unfortunate to see a fine free-kick rattle the bar while for Basel, Shpetim Sulejmani was also denied by the woodwork.
It took a heavy deflection for the Blues to break through, courtesy of a long-range Baker shot, before John Swift thrashed home a quick second to put the Blues in control at Basel's Academy training ground. A late penalty, given away by Ake in stoppage time, was the first goal we had conceded in Europe this season.
As promised, Drummy chose to rotate his squad with qualification and top spot in the group already guaranteed. That meant a first start at this level for Ola Aina, playing at right-back. Elsewhere in defence, Dion Conroy came in for Andreas Christensen. The only other change from the side that defeated Schalke 1-0 last time out in this competition saw John Swift start in an attacking front three, in place of the rested Islam Feruz. Charly Musonda earned a place on the bench.
It was a Lewis Baker free-kick that settled our last game in the UEFA Youth League, and it was he who almost replicated that glorious set-piece with another one inside the opening six minutes here. This time, though, the crossbar denied the midfielder.
He didn't have to wait long for his next opening, following up Jeremie Boga's saved effort but seeing his skidding shot cleared off the line. A frantic passage of play ended with Izzy Brown's header deflected just over.
We survived an early let-off of our own with 12 minutes played. Veljko Simic raced onto a straight ball played over the heart of our defence but blazed wide when it had seemed easier to score. It was perhaps the closest we had come to conceding in Europe this season.
Basel were looking dangerous on the counter-attack so it came as little surprise when they nearly opened the scoring again. Shpetim Sulejmani beat Conroy with an impressive blend of skill and pace, and his shot was too good for Beeney too, but this time it was Basel's turn to be denied by the woodwork. Full-back Joel Keller's follow-up, with the goal gaping, was scuffed and wide.
An end-to-end game saw the visitors next to threaten, with first Swift lashing over Aina's cute cut-back, and then Kiwomya denied by a last-ditch tackle. Loftus-Cheek was next to tee up Swift, and our no.7 kept his shot down this time but it rolled agonisingly beyond Baldinger's far post.
An entertaining first half thus surprisingly ended goalless, with both sides knowing they would have to improve their finishing if the deadlock was to be broken in the second 45.
A scooped Swift pass set Brown free on goal for the first time but his shot continued the trend that had been set before the break, miscued and blocked.
Beeney then saved after Simic raced clear, and our keeper did well to hold a well-struck free-kick moments later. He threw out quickly, initiating a lightening counter that ended with Brown lifting his shot over Baldinger. A belated opening goal seemed on the cards but the retreating Keller hacked the ball away just before it crossed the line.
An opening goal finally arrived and, like the previous 11 that had been scored in our European fixtures this season, it went the way of Chelsea. Baker struck a speculative effort from distance that took a hefty deflection, looping over Baldinger into the corner.
That lead was doubled within three minutes and this time the goal was a much slicker affair. Swift began it all with a penetrative run from inside his own half. He exchanged passes with Kiwomya on the right, shuffled his way into the box and teased a Basel defender with a couple of stepovers. He had the finish to match the skill, too, lashing the ball into the roof of the net for his fourth goal in Europe this season.
The Blues, playing in their change kit of white, were now well on top. Drummy had used his three subs in quick succession either side of our two goals, introducing Christensen, Musonda and Feruz for Conroy, Loftus-Cheek and Brown.
With gaps appearing in the home side's defence, and Basel heads perhaps somewhat dropped with their fierce resistance finally broken, Chelsea had chances to extend our lead. Baker played the ball into Feruz's feet and got it back courtesy of a deft return ball but Baldinger saved brilliantly before the home keeper had to race off his line to deny the onrushing Boga.
Basel had rarely threatened in the second half but did have the final say, in injury time. Nathan Ake bundled over the substitute Neftali Manzambi in the box and Robin Kamber sent Beeney the wrong way from the spot, in turn ending a run of not conceding for our Under-19s in Europe that had stretched to almost seven and a half hours.
That was the final action and Drummy can be pleased with his youngsters for making it five wins out of five in Europe against a decent Basel side.
Dermot Drummy, while happy with the win and the display, believes there is an important lesson to be learned by his players in how the closing moments of the match played out.
'Basel played a very good game in defending on block and then countering,' he said, 'and they could have had two goals in the first half. We could have had three.
'In the second half I made changes to give the side a bit more balance, and Lewis Baker scored a deflected goal but it was still a good shot, and then John Swift got a great goal. He loves to play on the right of midfield but sometimes he has to play a different role like today.
'We had enough chances to really bury the game and then we gave away a goal. I wanted our midfield block to show the opposition inside but the ball went in behind us, the centre-back came out into an area I don't want and we gave a penalty away.
'Suddenly it is 2-1 with a minute to go and it's panic stations. I said to the boys afterwards that when you are so in control, you must kill these games off and not give the other team an opportunity, so that is part of their learning curve.
'Different players had an opportunity to play today and boys are having to fight to get in this team which is good. The fact it is five wins out of five is credit to everyone at the club. There are no easy teams in this competition.'
Drummy considers the fact the goal conceded was the first in the competition an irrelevant fact outside of the context of the game.
'We are an attacking side and we are going to concede goals. We have to look at how we conceded that one. We could have conceded three or four but we take risks at times and I would much rather watch us than teams that don't come out and play. Mitchell Beeney made a great one-on-one save when it was 0-0.
'He is a very assured keeper at the moment. He has become an England Under-19 international and he is maturing nicely and works very hard at his game every day.'
Chelsea Mitchell Beeney; Ola Aina, Dion Conroy (Andreas Christensen 52), Nathan Ake (c), Kevin Wright; Lewis Baker, Jeremie Boga, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Charly Musonda 57); John Swift, Isaiah Brown (Islam Feruz 68), Alex Kiwomya.
Unused subs Bradley Collins, Fankaty Dabo.
Goals Baker 59, Swift 62.
Basel Christian Baldinger; Michael Gonzalves, Joel Keller, Marko Drakul, Adonis Ajeti; Serkan Korkmaz, Veljko Simic (Valentino Pugliese 83), Robin Kamber, Samuele Campo (Neftali Manzambi h/t); Shpetim Sulejmani (Albian Ajeti 68), Breel-Donald Embolo.
Unused subs Arxhend Cani, Tobias Mumenthaler, Manuel Weber, Pascal Albrecht.
Goal Kamber 90+1.
Yellow cards Sulejmani 32.