UNDER-19S REPORT: CHELSEA 0 ASTON VILLA 2
Two second-half penalties decided the destination of the NextGen Series trophy, Chelsea's first participation in the Under-19 European competition coming to an end on the banks of Lake Como in Italy.
There was much to admire from our Academy players in this final, as there had been throughout the knockout stages that had taken the team past Barcelona, Juventus and Arsenal, and in the first half especially we gave Villa plenty of problems with pacy attacking play. However chances were not taken and the West Midlands side, coached by former Chelsea player Tony McAndrew, deserve credit for their resilience and matched Chelsea in the second half.
The young Blues' confidence appeared to be knocked a little after going behind soon after the interval, with the second goal coming right on the final whistle and shortly after Chelsea were reduced to 10 men.
With Adam Nditi injured during Friday's semi-final and Nathan Ake able to join up with the squad yesterday having been involved in first-team preparations, the Dutch Under-19 international played in midfield. He and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were more often the deeper two with Lewis Baker (pictured top) pushed forward
However there was a change to the usual shape field by Dermot Drummy. Jeremie Boga was mostly on the left flank when Chelsea didn't have the ball but had licence to roam inside when we did, with him or Islam Feruz often joining Alex Kiwomya out on the right.
Villa made one change with Riccardo Calder coming in for Jordon Lyden. He played in central midfield alongside the first-team experienced Samir Carruthers in a 4-4-2.
More used to the bumpy pitch and more used to the occasion having beaten Arsenal here in Stadio Sinigaglia three days earlier, hopes were high that Chelsea would get off to a good start in the final.
A Villa shot did clear the bar by some distance after an Ake error in the opening seconds but Chelsea hit back quickly with the Baker gliding past his opponent in the centre of the park and playing Kiwomya through down the middle. The keeper was quick off his line to smother at the Chelsea winger's feet.
It was a fast and open beginning to this final and it needed a well-timed extension of Daniel Pappoe's long leg to prevent a shot from Samir Carruthers, just as he was about to pull the trigger.
Feruz had a fierce shot saved inside the first 10 minutes, Boga's confidence on the ball having created the chance and Chelsea got our passing game going sooner than in the semi-final. For a spell Villa were kept back in their own half but with clear Chelsea chances. When the opposition did escape forward, Graham Burke shot tamely wide of Beeney's goal.
The young Blues should have gone ahead on 21 minutes. Loftus-Cheek was sharp to win possession and Baker played the perfect long pass inside Villa left-back Lewis Kinsella. There was no way the lightning-quick Kiwomya was going to be caught but he struck his shot just wide of the far post.
Boga (pictured below) took on the same Villa flank for pace moments later but couldn't quite beat Bradley Watkins in the Villa goal as he tried to pull the ball back to the primed Feruz. Kiwomya was then on-target with a volley from the edge of the area which the keeper needed to get two hands to.
The Chelsea right winger was involved again on 32 minutes when he picked out Baker unmarked inside the area but the skipper side-footed wide. Moments earlier Beeney had stopped a shot from Calder who had advanced from midfield to find space in the Chelsea area. That had been a rare moment of concern during the second half of the opening period.
Another Baker shot cleared the bar. Shooting on sight had paid off for him in the semi but not so far in this game. Carruthers was the first player booked for taking down Ake on halfway.
It was clear Chelsea were looking to launch attacks down the Villa left at every opportunity and came very close to scoring on 42 minutes. Kiwomya opened the West Midlanders up down that flank and centred. Ake forced the ball beyond Watkins but the Villa keeper made enough contact that it could be cleared a yard from the line.
So the two teams went in goalless at the interval, but with Chelsea less troubled by the opposition than in the semi-final.
A setback it proved hard to recover from came less than two minutes after the restart. Villa centre-forward Callum Robinson was running towards goal near the byline when Davey facing him went to tackle, making contact with his opponent's leg. Robinson went down, the ref pointed to the spot and Burke was able to open the scoring for his side from 12 yards, as he had done in the semi against Sporting Lisbon.
In the other penalty area Kiwomya was booked for going down and it was taking a while for Chelsea to rediscover our rhythm. Baker lofted a first-time effort from the edge of the area well over.
Villa were looking just as likely to score as the half reached its midway point. Beeney saved with his leg at his near post from Jack Grealish, and then stretched up a glove to keep out a curler from Joshua Barton. That was a good save.
Drummy made the first substitution on 70 minutes - Connor Hunte coming on to play on the left wing with Loftus-Cheek the man replaced. A second sub followed four minutes later with Charlie Colkett added to midfield and Davey coming off. There were now three at the back.
Looking to find the space that had been there in the first half, Boga stroked a pass out to Kiwomya who took on Kinsella before crossing low, but it was too close to the keeper. There were now just 10 minutes left to find an equaliser. Villa's Burke was booked for swinging a leg at Baker by the corner flag. Baker then won a corner at the other end which he took but Watkins, who had a good game, claimed commandingly.
Unfortunately Kiwomya and Feruz weren't on the same wavelength when a lovely piece of skill by Ake had set up a counter-attack. Kiwomya's day got worse with 88 minutes played when a foul near the benches earned him his second booking of the game.
Villa completed the job on 10-men Chelsea when Burke scored his second penalty with the final kick of the game. Pappoe had fouled Barton.
Chelsea Mitchell Beeney; Andreas Christensen, Alex Davey (Charlie Colkett 74), Daniel Pappoe, Kevin Wright; Nathan Ake, Lewis Baker (c), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Connor Hunte 70); Alex Kiwomya, Islam Feruz, Jeremie Boga.
Unused subs: Ben Killip, Fankaty Dabo, Dion Conroy, Tika Musonda, John Swift.
Aston Villa Bradley Watkins; Josh Webb, Janoi Donacien, Bradley Lewis, Lewis Kinsella; Joshua Barton, Riccardo Calder, Samir Carruthers (c), Jack Grealish; Graham Burke, Callum Robinson..
Unused subs: Liam Bateman, Aiden Grant, Kevin Toner, Alfie Crooks, Jordon Lyden, Khalid Abdo, Daniel Crowley.