UEFA YOUTH LEAGUE REPORT: CHELSEA 1 SCHALKE 0
Chelsea's Under-19 side secured their fourth win from four games in Group E of the inaugural UEFA Youth League, defeating Schalke 1-0 at Aldershot thanks to a first-half goal from Lewis Baker, his second goal in two European matches.
There was little to separate the sides in another tight and closely-fought contest and Baker's free kick, after Boga had been upended on the edge of the box, proved enough to give Dermot Drummy's side a slender victory. The win means Chelsea's Under-19s are the only side left in the competition with a 100% winning record and ensures their qualification to the last-16 stage.
Dermot Drummy made two changes from the starting 11 that began the return game in the Stimberg-Stadion a fortnight previously. Isaiah Brown, recently returned from international duty with the England Under-17s, replaced John Swift to join Islam Feruz and Alex Kiwomya as the attacking trio.
There was also a return for Andreas Christensen (pictured below), who partnered captain Nathan Ake at centre-back. Kevin Wright and Fankaty Dabo continued at left-back and right-back respectively, while Mitchell Beeney remained in goal. Baker, scorer of the penalty that set the young Blues on the way to a 2-0 victory in Germany in the reverse game, continued in midfield, alongside Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jeremie Boga.
The opening exchanges were even, with both sides feeling their way into the game in the windy conditions at Aldershot's Electrical Services Stadium. The visitors set up in similar fashion to the match in Gelsenkirchen, with men high up the field and the emphasis on pressing Chelsea's build-up play out from the back.
Leroy Sane had an effort from 20 yards well blocked by Ake as the Germans started brightly and the young Blues had to be alert to defend capably as the visitors enjoyed early possession. However, after an opening 20 minutes with goal-mouth moments of action few and far between, it was the hosts who took the lead.
Boga was tripped when advancing towards goal on the edge of the penalty area, after some neat trickery and a burst of pace earned him some space, and Baker stepped up over the ball. From a central position about 25 yards out Baker opted to strike left-footed and beat Timon Wellenreuther in the Schalke goal with an excellent effort into the corner. It was the midfielder's fourth goal of the season, having netted from the penalty spot in the 2-0 win in Germany, and also for the Under-21s in their 3-3 draw against West Ham on Friday evening.
Schalke responded with a tame effort on goal from Maurice Multhaup, which Beeney gathered comfortably, before a couple of deep free kick deliveries tested the Blues' resolve at the back, though once again Beeney was capable and Christensen cleared the aerial danger.
As the visitors edged forwards looking for a quick equaliser it gave Chelsea an opportunity to spring quick counter-attacks in retaliation. The speed of the front three of Brown, Feruz and Kiwomya gave Schalke some problems on these forward forays, although Brown's overhit his pass to Feruz squandered the brightest of these opportunities as the half hour mark approached.
Beeney was forced to make a good save from Miles Muller from 30 yards as Chelsea restricted their opponents to efforts from range and long, diagonal aerial balls forward while, down the opposite end, Feruz forced a good low save from Wellenreuther at his near post after an interchange between Wright and Brown down the left fashioned the chance for the striker.
As the game moved towards half time both Multhaup and Pascal Itter fired harmlessly over Beeney's bar after promising build-up play, however the Blues defended strongly to claim a slender advantage at the interval.
The second period began at a relatively slow pace, with Itter's low shot wide the only notable action of an uneventful opening quarter of an hour. The game struggled to find any rhythm, as play was continually broken up by sloppiness on the ball.
Drummy made a couple of early changes, replacing Islam Feruz and Isaiah Brown with Ambrose Gnahore and Dominic Solanke, the latter coming on for his first appearance in the competition.
Schalke were then presented with a great chance to equalise as Beeney's clearance out from the back fell straight to Sane. The Germans' No.10 advanced towards goal before firing in a dangerous effort, however Beeney atoned for his mistake with a good save to push the ball beyond his near post.
Thilo Kehrer went close after promising play down the right from the visitors resulted in a delivery towards the midfielder, however his header from close range was straight at Beeney and comfortable for the goalkeeper to gather.
Drummy was insistent from the touchline that his midfield keep their shape as Schalke continued to control proceedings, while substitute Solanke and Kiwomya alternated positions at centre-forward and out wide right. The visitors' pressing continued, however, and the Blues were finding it difficult to pass out from defence, restricting their ability to hurt their opponents on the break.
Kiwomya had a fierce effort from distance deflected behind, before Solanke was denied by an excellent stop from the onrushing Wellenreuther after excellent link-up play between Loftus-Cheek, Ake and Kiwomya.
As the game ebbed and flowed from end to end as it entered the final quarter of an hour there were chances for both sides. Muller had an effort somehow squirm the wrong side of the post via a slight deflection, with the resultant corner headed harmlessly over the bar, before the hosts had a golden opportunity to put the game to bed.
Kiwomya did excellently to skip past Maurice Neubauer down the right flank and accelerate away from the full-back and into space, before teeing up Boga just on the edge of the six-yard box. However, the young Frenchman could only fire over after leaning back at the decisive moment.
Schalke had a territorial advantage in the final 10 minutes as they poured forwards looking for a leveller, however the young Blues' defence held strong until stoppage time, when Beeney was called into action to deny Avdijaj with a superb fingertip save. That secured the points for the hosts and made sure of their involvement in the last-sixteen of the competition.
'I'm just really pleased for the boys,' reported manager Drummy after the game. 'It wasn't the prettiest of games but it was very positive in terms of bringing on Dom Solanke as an Under-16 and Ambrose Gnahore, who's been playing well for Adi Viveash's Under-18 team.'
'We had to defend to the hilt so I'm pleased with the boys' mentality. We created plenty of chances, we tried to play our usual game but at times their pressing forces you to kick out. If you look at what we set out to achieve in this competition we've done very well.'
'Schalke are a very good side, we won there and I thought we played the better football again tonight. We had some concerning moments at the end but even the first team have to dig in. These boys have won four out of four, with some young boys in there as well, and hopefully we can blood in a few more against Basel and Steaua in the final two games.'
Next up for Drummy's Under-19 side is a trip to FC Basel on Tuesday November 26.
Chelsea Mitchell Beeney; Fankaty Dabo, Andreas Christensen, Nathan Ake (c), Kevin Wright; Lewis Baker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Dion Conroy 81), Jeremie Boga; Alex Kiwomya, Isaiah Brown (Ambrose Gnahore 56), Islam Feruz (Dominic Solanke 54).
Unused subs Bradley Collins, Ola Aina, Jonathan Muleba.
Schalke Timon Wellenreuther; Daniel Koseler, Maurice Neubauer, Sebastian Starke Hedlund, Marvin Friedrich; Miles Muller, Leroy Sane, Thilo Kehrer (Donis Avdijaj 76); Maurice Maulthaup (Hendrik Lohmar 59), Pascal Itter (c), Adis Omerbasic (Florian Pick 68)
Unused subs Janik Schilder, Ingo Feser, Tim Bodenroder, Girolamo Tomasello.