UEFA YOUTH LEAGUE REPORT: SCHALKE 0 CHELSEA 2
Late goals from Lewis Baker and Nathan Ake ensured our Under-19s preserved their 100 per cent record in the UEFA Youth League, making it nine points from nine with a hard-fought 2-0 win away at Schalke.
The home side had the better of the chances during the first half, with Leroy Sane hitting the underside of the bar with a free-kick, and while we improved defensively after the break, going forward we hadn't looked like making the breakthrough until we were awarded a penalty for a foul on Fankaty Dabo in the 71st minute, which was subsequently converted by Baker.
Ake made sure of the win three minutes from time when he reacted quickest to fire home from inside the box after Schalke had failed to clear Baker's corner, meaning Dermot Drummy's side head into the home game against the German side in pole position in the group.
Drummy made three changes to the side which won in Bucharest last time out, and was able to call on the services of Jeremie Boga, who has recently returned from a knee injury, for the first time in the competition. Elsewhere, Dion Conroy came in for the injured Andreas Christensen to partner captain Nathan Ake in the heart of the defence, while at right-back Dabo replaced Isak Ssewankambo.
The Blues went into the game looking to build on successive 4-0 wins from our opening two matches in the competition, but it was the hosts, backed by over 3,000 spectators inside the Stimberg Stadium, who threatened first.
A quick burst of pace from Sane, playing in the middle of the supporting attacking trio in behind the striker, took him away from Dion Conroy, and it required a well-timed block from the retreating Nathan Ake to clear the danger.
A minute later we breathed another collective sigh of relief as the best opportunity of the game went begging. Again, it was Sane at the heart of things, but as he fed the ball into the path of Maurice Malthaup, who had only Mitchell Beeney to beat, the attacker somehow screwed his shot high and wide.
As an attacking unit we were struggling to establish any rhythm in our play, with the likes of Boga, Alex Kiomya and Islam Feruz seeing very little of the ball during the opening 25 minutes.
It took until the half-hour mark for the Blues to register a serious attempt on the Schalke goal, and it owed much to the guile and creativity of Boga, who advanced from inside our own half, eased away from two men with a drop of the shoulder and slipped in Feruz, whose low strike fizzed inches past the far post.
Seven minutes before the break Schalke almost broke the deadlock, and it surprised nobody inside the ground that it was Sane who went close, sending a dipping free-kick from 25 yards over the head of Beeney, but as the ball crashed down off the underside of the bar it rebounded off the back of the Chelsea 'keeper and out of play.
As the opening 45 minutes drew to a close there were half-chances at both ends, with Conroy firing wide from long-range for the Blues, but there remained plenty of work to do.
Drummy made one change to personnel at the break, replacing Boga with Ambrose Gnahore, but it was Schalke on the front-foot from the restart, with Beeney needing to make a smart stop to deny Daniel Koseler, the 'keeper getting a strong pair of hands behind the right-back's stinging strike.
Feruz, a peripheral figure for much of the first half, then provided a glimpse of his capabilities, pouncing on a loose ball deep inside the Schalke half, displaying great strength to hold off his marker and feeding Kiwomya, before taking the return pass first time and firing just over the top of the bar.
As a spectacle, it was developing into a decent contest between two sides looking to play the game in the right manner, but Drummy will have been concerned about the way in which the likes of Kiwomya and John Swift, so influential in the previous two games, were struggling to impose themselves on proceedings.
Baker tested Janik Schilder in the Schalke goal with a well-taken free-kick as we looked to seize the initiative, while at the other end Swift produced an important defensive header as Schalke threatened from a set-piece.
With just under 20 minutes remaining, however, the breakthrough came when we were awarded penalty. Dabo showed great desire to get forward, and as he worked his way into the penalty area the defender was brought down by Sebastian Hedlund.
The referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and Baker dispatched his kick calmly, firing into the bottom corner to give us the lead.
Feruz was unfortunate not to double our advantage moments later when he raced on to a Kiwomya pass, but as he took his shot quickly he was unable to keep it down.
As the clock ticked down, though, the points were secured when Ake scored from close-range after the 'keeper had struggled to deal with a Baker corner, the Dutchman finishing neatly as the loose ball bounced around inside the Schalke penalty area.
Drummy was delighted with the mentality shown by his players after they refused to settle for just a point.
'Their game-plan was to press and stop Lewis Baker getting us out from the back and it worked in the first half,' he said. 'Our mistake was to keep trying to play on a pitch that wasn't condusive to that.
'We didn't win enough second-balls in the first half but we improved in the second and got back into it, and I felt we deserved the win in the end.
'They've shown the type of mentality we need at the club, we've kept our heads and the players have done admirably.'
Chelsea (4-3-3): Mitchell Beeney; Fankaty Dabo, Dion Conroy, Nathan Ake (c), Kevin Wright; John Swift, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Kasey Palmer 88), Lewis Baker; Jeremie Boga (Ambrose Gnahore h/t), Islam Feruz (Reece Mitchell 90+2), Alex Kiwomya.
Unused substitutes: Bradley Collins, Ola Aina, George Cole, Jonathan Muleba.
Schalke (4-2-3-1): Janik Schilder; Daniel Koseler, Sebastian Hedlund, Marvin Friedrich, Maurice Neubauer (Tim Bodenroder 75); Miles Muller, Pascal Itter (c); Thilo Kehrer, Leroy Sane (Florian Pick 70), Maurice Malthaup (Donis Avdijaj 60); Adis Omerbasic.
Unused substitutes: Timon Wellenreuther, Florian Heinrich, Hendrik Lohmar, Ingo Feser.