Our Under-19s eased past Elfsborg and into the UEFA Youth League play-off round with a comfortable 6-0 victory over the Swedish side at Cobham this afternoon (Wednesday).
It completes a 9-0 aggregate win for Joe Edwards’s side and ensures their involvement in the Under-19 European competition will continue into the New Year, when they will host a one-legged tie against a runner-up from the UEFA Champions League pathway.
Early goals from Charlie Brown and Daishawn Redan, the strike duo, settled any doubts about complacency, before Brown and Juan Castillo struck again before half-time to make it 4-0 at the break. George McEachran then fired in a fifth and Tariq Uwakwe rounded off the scoring with the best of the bunch. We will find out our play-off round opponents on Monday 17 December.
The Blues made four changes from the first leg in Sweden three weeks previously as Edwards used a 3-0 advantage to tinker in defence and midfield. Jake Askew replaced Jamie Cumming in goal for his UEFA Youth League debut, while Jack Wakely joined captain Joseph Colley and Ian Maatsen to form a three-man central defensive unit.
The wing-back duo of Castillo and Tariq Lamptey continued on the flanks, while Uwakwe and Tino Anjorin came into midfield. The latter along with striker George Nunn, who started on the bench, had signed his first professional contract at the club days earlier.
Up front, Brown and Redan led the line, with Brown hoping to add to his competition-high of seven goals so far this term, including a brace in Scandinavia. Elfsborg also made four alterations to their line-up and started well on a dreary day at Cobham.
Kevin Liimatainen floated in a dangerous free-kick from the left and Colley was grateful that his sliced clearance landed perfectly into the hands of his own goalkeeper. Moments later, Alexsandar Ceganjac hooked in a high cross towards Eduart Iljazi that forced Lamptey to push the ball behind.
Both Anjorin and Uwakwe showed promising touches in the early stages, driving forward from midfield to cause problems in the heart of the visitors’ defence, though our first strike at goal from the latter lacked a sweet connection and was comfortably gathered by Tim Ronning, the goalkeeper.
A strong and physically imposing side from back to front, Elfsborg were always likely to highlight set-pieces as a potential route back into this contest. One delivery dropped invitingly into the six-yard box but was punched clear by Askew, whose reach made up for what he lacked in stature.
The home side broke the deadlock and extended their aggregate advantage with their first serious chance of note after 15 minutes. Uwakwe once again picked up possession in the pocket between the lines and shimmied left then right before punching a pass into the feet of Brown.
The 19-year-old’s first touch was that of a confident forward, trapping the ball and easing away from the defender before showing composure to slot his finish beyond Ronning for his 14th goal of the campaign in all competitions. He could have had a second of the afternoon shortly afterwards but failed to find the corner with a flicked header.
However, Edwards’s side were celebrating again before the midway point of the first period. Uwakwe turned provider once more with a forward pass for Redan that tempted Ronning to scamper from his goal-line. The Dutchman won the foot race, rounded the keeper and slotted the ball in from a narrowing angle.
It was a goal that made the aggregate score 5-0 and essentially ensured our place in the play-off round, though the hosts were in no mood to take their foot off the gas in the drizzly Surrey rain. Castillo collected a raking crossfield pass from Wakely with an exquisite touch but couldn’t find a teammate in the centre before Anjorin went close with a header from Castillo’s inswinging cross.
The young Blues have reached the UEFA Youth League final in each of their past three seasons of involvement and there is plenty of motivation for redemption after a defeat to Barcelona in the final last term. Their previous aggregate score this season in the domestic champions pathway, which matches national youth champions who haven’t qualified for the UEFA Champions League path, was a 14-1 win over Molde and Edwards wanted his players to be similarly ruthless again.
Brown spurned a good opportunity after 35 minutes by swiping right-footed at Castillo’s low centre before Elfsborg created their best opening of the half when Sandberg Hesselgren took aim from 20 yards, though the wideman shot across goal and wide of the far post.
An attacking blitz before the break extinguished any faint hopes of a comeback for the Swedes. Brown made it 3-0 with another expert finish, collecting a pass from his strike partner Redan before slotting the ball into the bottom corner to extend his cushion as the Youth League top scorer.
Castillo then got in on the act in the final minute of the half, rifling a powerful finish beyond Ronning from a seemingly impossible angle after neat and patient build-up play. The goals ensured Edwards's team talk was focused on maintaining standards rather than any drastic changes needed, a call to send a message to their Under-19 counterparts in Europe by securing another big margin of victory.
McEachran added another within three minutes of the restart, the midfielder latching on to the loose ball after Uwakwe’s free-kick was cleared to the edge of the box and steering a controlled finish on the half-volley beyond the goalkeeper’s dive.
Elfsborg’s resistance had been firmly broken and the Blues were easing into a knockout tie against one of the UEFA Champions League pathway group runners-up. Uwakwe moved the aggregate score closer to double figures with our sixth of the afternoon just before the hour mark and it was perhaps the pick of the goals as he danced away from defenders and the goalkeeper before rolling the ball into the unguarded goal.
Down the other end, Askew was forced into a rare piece of goalkeeping action when Iljazi’s deflected drive looped towards the corner, while Sandberg Hesselgren also went close with an effort that trickled narrowly wide. It was a testament to the character and application of our visitors that they continued to compete in spite of such a heavy deficit.
Brown’s search for a hat-trick was perhaps the lingering storyline remaining but his enduring efforts failed to find a third goal. The best chance was fashioned when Maatsen was played in down the left with an intelligent forward pass and his low delivery towards substitute Nunn was diverted into Brown’s path, though the finish was too high to trouble Ronning on this occasion.
Anjorin then had a shot blocked and Brown fired wide at the end of a mazy run as the Blues were forced to settle for nine. Edwards’s side are back in action in the Checkatrade Trophy next Tuesday 4 December at Stamford Bridge when they host AFC Wimbledon. Tickets are still available to purchase online priced at just £5 for adults and £3 for concessions.
Chelsea (3-5-2) Jake Askew; Joseph Colley (c), Jack Wakely, Ian Maatsen; Tariq Lamptey (Marcel Lavinier 60), Tariq Uwakwe, George McEachran (Jonathan Russell 70), Tino Anjorin, Juan Castillo (Clinton Mola 60); Charlie Brown (Marcel Lewis 89), Daishawn Redan (George Nunn 60)
Unused subs Karlo Ziger
Scorers Brown 15, 41; Redan 21; Castillo 45; McEachran 48; Uwakwe 57
Booked Uwakwe, Nunn
Elfsborg (4-3-3) Tim Ronning; Johannes Vedin, Filip Schyberg, Tim Stalheden (Gustav Broman 80), Makwan Sawsami; Kevin Liimatainen (Jack Cooper Love 61), Anton Thorsson, Noah Soderberg; Jesper Sandberg Hesselgren, Alexsandar Ceganjac (Joel Viktorsson 61), Eduart Iljazi (Kevin Holmen 81)
Unused subs Sebastian Jonsson, Kevin Holmen
Referee Kristoffer Hagenes (NOR)
-Additional pictures courtesy of Mark Sandom