Our Under-19s gained the upper hand in their UEFA Youth League knockout tie with a deserving victory in Sweden.
On a chilly evening in Scandinavia, the young Blues applied themselves well and scored early on through Charlie Brown, the leading scorer in this season’s competition.
The frustration for Joe Edwards and his players was their inability to build on that early advantage, with the contest lacking urgency and tempo. However, two further goals in the final five minutes reflected the control displayed by last year’s runners-up. Billy Gilmour fired in a second from the spot before Brown added a late third.
Edwards picked the same starting 11 as the first leg against Molde in the previous round, which ended 10-1 to the hosts at Cobham at the start of last month. Daishawn Redan and Brown combined for five of the goals that afternoon and the duo continued up front, while Joseph Colley, Marc Guehi and Ian Maatsen were the back three in front of goalkeeper Jamie Cumming, who signed a new contract earlier this week.
George McEachran, Conor Gallagher and Gilmour started in midfield, with Juan Castillo at left wing-back and Tariq Lamptey on the opposite flank. The Blues had blown away Scandinavian opposition less than a quarter of the way through their two-legged first round tie and a fast start was their intention once again on the artificial surface at Elfsborg’s Boras Arena.
The home side’s back four reverted to a defensive six out of possession as both wide players were tasked with tracking our wing-backs, though the imposing striker Alexsandar Ceganjac represented a focal point for the Swedes to aim for and play off. However, growing pressure in the opening exchanges quickly paid dividends for Edwards’s boys, who took the lead inside 15 minutes.
It was an opening goal that owed much to the direct running and trickery of Lamptey down the right, the wideman skipping away from the challenge of Isaac Prince Kouame and finding Gilmour on the edge of the box with a precise low cross. The Scotland Under-21 midfielder struck well but straight at Tim Ronning, the goalkeeper, who could only parry into the grateful path of Brown. There was still work for the 19-year-old but his quick feet made it look easy as he turned the ball into the net for his sixth UEFA Youth League goal of the season.
Falling behind early on was never likely to change Elfsborg’s game plan and they remained set in a deep defensive shape, challenging their visitors to break through. Lamptey continued to cause problems and teed up Redan with an inviting cross towards the front post, though the Dutchman fired just wide from a difficult angle.
Janne Mian’s side had beaten KR Reykjavik to reach this second knockout round in the Domestic Champions side of the draw, with our Under-18 Premier League success last term providing an opportunity for European involvement in light of the first team’s absence from the UEFA Champions League.
The boys from Boras, a city some 40 miles east of Gothenburg, had run Real Madrid close on their previous run in the competition in 2015/16 and they seemed intent on learning from the mistakes of Molde. Their challenge was to pose an attacking threat of their own while staying compact at the back. Cumming’s only work of note in the first half was to pluck Johannes Vedin’s cross from the air, which only provided further evidence of the difficult task for the hosts.
Yet our own attacking ambitions remained curbed as the first period wore on. The lively Castillo fashioned an opportunity by stealing the ball on halfway and feeding Brown but McEachran’s header from the resulting cross was comfortably gathered by Ronning. Patient build-up play then created a shooting chance for Maatsen, though the 16-year-old could not keep his fierce drive from rising above the crossbar and into the stand behind the goal.
The period before the break was light on action of any real substance, with Elfsborg defending well and making fouls where appropriate, while our play in the final third lacked tempo and a clinical edge. The restart and early withdrawal of Redan saw Edwards switch his system to 4-3-3, with Marcel Lavinier introduced at right-back and Lamptey pushed further forward.
However, it was the hosts who sensed an opportunity to capitalise and only brave defending prevented the need for Cumming to save his side. Lavinier was first to intervene, throwing himself in front of Ceganjac’s drive after an inviting pull-back from the right, before captain Colley denied Prince Kouame with a similarly important block.
Down the other end, Castillo had a chance to add a goal to an eye-catching display as he powered on to Lamptey’s hanging delivery but the ball was quickly smothered to safety. Brown then saw a deflected shot saved from 25 yards out before Lamptey’s effort hit a defender and flew behind for a corner, which came to nothing.
Elfsborg were wishing and waiting for one clear chance and their moment arrived with 75 minutes on the clock. Prince Kouame accelerated away from Maatsen down the right, picked out Eduart Iljazi in the centre and the winger turned swiftly to get a shot in at goal. If he had directed the effort to the left or the right of Cumming, it would have been the equaliser but the ball flew into the grateful midriff of our goalkeeper and the visitors were reprieved.
Tim Stalheden had the next best opportunity for the home side but failed to put enough purchase on his header at the back post and those misses were punished late on as a second goal for the Blues put daylight between the two teams in the tie.
Guehi stepped out of defence purposefully and was brought down by Vedin as he moved into the box, leaving the Finnish referee with no option but to point to the spot. Gilmour stepped up to assume responsibility from 12 yards and his spot-kick was emphatically planted into the bottom corner
The deficit was extended further in added time as Brown rifled a smart finish into the roof of the net from a tight angle and handed our youngsters a healthy lead at the midway point of the knockout tie. The two sides meet again at the end of the month for the deciding second leg when Elfsborg travel to Cobham on Wednesday 28 November.
Chelsea (3-5-2) Jamie Cumming; Joseph Colley (c), Marc Guehi, Ian Maatsen (George Nunn 76); Tariq Lamptey, Conor Gallagher, George McEachran, Billy Gilmour, Juan Castillo; Daishawn Redan (Marcel Lavinier 49), Charlie Brown
Unused subs Henry Lawrence, Karlo Ziger, Jon Russell
Scorers Brown 13, 90+3; Gilmour (pen) 86
Elfsborg (4-5-1) Tim Ronning; Johannes Vedin, Filip Schyberg (c) (Gustav Broman 57), Tim Stalheden, Oliver Zanden; Eduart Iljazi, Nattnael Zerai, Jesper Sandberg Hesselgren, Joakim Engstrom (Noah Soderberg 27), Isaac Prince Kouame; Alexsandar Ceganjac (Jack Cooper Love 90+1)
Unused subs Sebastian Jonsson, Joel Viktorsson, Makwan Sawsami, Kevin Holmen
Booked Schyberg, Zerai
Referee Jari Jarvinen (FIN)