Chelsea Under-21s exited the Premier League International Cup at the semi-final stage following a 2-1 defeat at Aldershot this evening (Thursday).
The Blues led after Kasey Palmer had fired them in front after just six minutes but PSV Eindhoven levelled swiftly and then snatched a crucial goal moments before the break. Despite pushing hard for a route back into the game, the visitors shut us out well and held on to claim a place in the final.
There were four changes from our quarter-final victory over Tottenham in this competition as Mitchell Beeney, Trevoh Chalobah, Dion Conroy and Alex Kiwomya came into the side. Chalobah and Conroy partnered in central defence, with captain Fankaty Dabo and Kevin Wright forming the remainder of the back protecting Beeney in goal.
Jordan Houghton and Josimar Quintero continued in central midfield, with Kiwomya, Palmer and Reece Mitchell providing the attacking support for Tammy Abraham up front.
PSV’s side included Adam Maher, the midfielder capped five times by the Dutch national team, plus fellow first team player Steven Bergwijn, and it was Maher with the game’s first sight at goal. He took aim from 25 yards out but saw his effort blocked well by the alert Conroy.
It was the Blues who broke the deadlock with just six minutes on the clock, a familiar theme of the run to the last four; out of 15 goals netted in the competition, this was the seventh to come inside the opening quarter of an hour.
Palmer, coming into the game with five of those 15 goals to his name, was the architect as he won a free-kick on the edge of the box and then struck the ball emphatically into the far top corner.
Dabo did well defending the back post as he diverted a dangerous cross from Ramon Pascal behind, while a neat move from the hosts down the left fashioned a chance for Wright but the full-back’s shot was saved well by goalkeeper Luke Koopmans.
The Dutchmen were back on level terms just 10 minutes after falling behind but it was a leveller that was slightly unfortunate for the Blues. A low corner from the right found Maher 20 yards out and his drive forced Wright into a clearance off the line. However, the defender could only watch as the ball rebounded straight into Chalobah and flew into the back of the net.
The equaliser promoted a bright spell for PSV as centre-back Jody de Wijs headed over and then Maher sliced his shot wide, before Wright was forced into some good defending in the 18-yard box with Pascal lurking.
Aleksander Boljevic was handed a great opportunity to give his side the lead after 30 minutes after being brilliantly teed up by Kenneth Paal, though he could only steer his shot wide of Beeney’s far post. Down the other end, Kiwomya was stopped in his tracks by Menno Koch before PSV took the lead with two minutes of the half remaining.
Bergwijn latched on to a ball down the left flank before executing a brilliant lobbed finish with the outside of his right boot, leaving Beeney stranded and helpless as the ball bounced over the line.
Andy Myers, taking the lead from the dugout in the competition this season, made a half-time change as he introduced Mukhtar Ali in place of Chalobah, with Houghton dropping into centre-back.
It was nearly 2-2 within a few minutes of the restart as Wright advanced to the byline down the left and cut back invitingly for Abraham. The striker kept his effort low and beat the keeper but saw the ball hooked away to safety from right on the line.
Palmer and Quintero fired over the crossbar as the young Blues pushed for a route back into the tie, though the visitors looked to capitalise on the break and Suently Alberto blasted a warning shot high and wide of Beeney’s goal frame after one such counter-attack.
The hosts struggled to break down a resilient and well-organised defence and were limited in opportunities as the half wore on. Abraham found space in the box but could only fire tamely at Koopmans. Substitute Luiz Beto Da Silva could have sealed the victory for PSV with his first touch after entering the fray but his final effort was scuffed awkwardly wide.
Charlie Colkett and Jay Dasilva were also introduced to provide the team with added attacking impetus for the final 20 minutes but clear-cut openings remained limited. Despite a late bombardment of balls into the Dutch side’s penalty area, they held on firmly to claim the victory.
After the game, Andy Myers reflected on an evening in which he felt his side grew into the game but perhaps left it too late to secure a place in the final. Speaking to the official Chelsea website, he said: ‘I was disappointed with how we approached the game. The first 45 minutes were disappointing and that’s the first time I’ve felt that in the competition this season.
‘I don’t know if the occasion overawed some of the players but we didn’t do the things we’ve been doing well in previous rounds and we weren’t brave on the ball. PSV actually did to us what we usually do to other teams but the players cannot afford to wait until half-time for the coach to address things. They need to work that out for themselves on the field, that’s the lesson and I think we’re still learning that.
‘We dominated the second half by doing things the right way; we were brave on the ball and positive in the right areas but PSV are a good team and they defended their lead very well. We got in behind them a few times but then it comes down to the thought process and the decision-making; our runs into the box were all similar which made the crosses too predictable.’
The run to the last four bettered our quarter-final finish of last season and Myers praised the competition as a fantastic development opportunity for his young players.
‘It’s great for us to come up against European teams that play in the second tier of their national leagues every week. They are older, more physical and they benefit from having a games programme where they play week in, week out, as opposed to our programme which can be more sporadic. It’s good for our boys to face that which makes it a really good competition to be involved in.’
The next Chelsea Academy action sees our youth team begin the elite playoff round of their Under-18 Premier League campaign. They take on Manchester City at the Academy Stadium this Saturday 5 March, kick-off 11am, live on Chelsea TV.
Chelsea Mitchell Beeney; Fankaty Dabo (c), Trevoh Chalobah (Ali h-t), Dion Conroy, Kevin Wright (Jay Dasilva 71); Jordan Houghton, Josimar Quintero (Charlie Colkett 71); Alex Kiwomya, Kasey Palmer, Reece Mitchell; Tammy Abraham
Unused subs Bradley Collins, Kyle Scott, Charlie Wakefield
Scorer Palmer 6
Booked Palmer, Houghton
PSV Eindhoven Luuk Koopmans, Bram van Vlerken, Menno Koch, Jody de Wijs (Augustine Loof 75), Suently Alberto, Clint Leemans, Ramon Pascal, Kenneth Paal, Steven Bergwijn (Albert Gudmundsson 89), Adam Maher, Aleksander Boljevic (Luiz Beto Da Silva 75)
Unused subs Laros Duarte, Jesse Bertrams
Scorers Chalobah (og) 16; Bergwijn 43
Booked Paal, Gudmundsson
Referee Carl Brook
Pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom and Dan Davies.