Our Under-19s put three past Real Madrid in the first half and battled after the break with 10 men to triumph in the Spanish capital and seal their place in the UEFA Youth League semi-finals.
The hosts took an early lead as Oscar found the back of the net with a free-kick before Joe Edwards’s side came storming back to lead 3-1 through Luke McCormick’s equaliser and a brace from Daishawn Redan. Opportunities passed by after the restart with Dujon Sterling heading over from close range and McCormick striking the post before Real reduced the deficit with a header from Ismael Alvarez.
Jacob Maddox saw red midway through the second period in contentious circumstances, forcing the visitors to show character and calmness at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium. Such attributes have defined previous Chelsea winners of this competition and the class of 2018 proved their worth too, defending doggedly before Harvey St Clair ran in clear to secure the victory deep into added time.
Edwards made two changes from the last-16 victory over Feyenoord as Jamie Cumming and McCormick came into the starting team, the latter replacing Callum Hudson-Odoi, who travelled with the first team to Barcelona.
McCormick joined St Clair in providing the attacking support for striker Redan, the trio accounting for seven of our 18 goals in the competition going into the quarter-final tie. Cumming replaced Marcin Bulka between the sticks and was protected by a back three of Sterling, Ethan Ampadu and captain Josh Grant, with Reece James and Juan Castillo operating as wing-backs.
In midfield, Jacob Maddox partnered Trevoh Chalobah. The hosts were without their top scorer Dani Gomez and defender Adri, who served a suspension after receiving a red card in their 3-2 comeback win against Bayern Munich in the last round.
It was an unusually cold and rainy spring afternoon in the Spanish capital, with the strong wind affecting some of the early play as the visitors lined up in all-blue against the hosts in their famous all-white strip. The first opportunity came within the first few minutes as St Clair swung in a free-kick from the left after himself being upended on the wing but the delivery was too high for James coming in at the far post.
The hosts had netted 24 goals in their eight Youth League games up to this last-eight contest and took just six minutes to register another. Grant was penalised for a foul on Cesar about 10 yards outside of the penalty area and Oscar stepped up to bend the ball beyond Cumming via the underside of the crossbar.
Buoyed by striking ahead early and encouraged by a small but vocal group of home supporters, Real threatened again moments later but Martin’s 25-yard effort flew too high to trouble our goalkeeper. The advantage lasted less than 10 minutes as our youngsters demonstrated character to come from behind. A poor clearance was punished as Redan pounced and squared the ball for McCormick, who showed the composure of a player with four goals already in the competition to slot his finish over the onrushing Mohamet Ramos.
The Blues had found their feet and soon began to threaten with more frequency, particularly in wide areas. Castillo crossed from the left looking for his compatriot Redan but Ramos read the danger well and punched clear, though the home keeper was beaten for a second time seconds later.
The supply this time came from the right as James produced a teasing low delivery across the face of goal and Redan turned it in from close range. Despite some initial confusion after the ball hit the back of the net, with Madrid appealing for a handball, the officials deemed it legal.
A comeback from 1-0 down to 2-1 ahead capped an eventful opening 20 minutes in Spain. Castillo again caused problems down the left, cutting back onto his right foot on the byline and crossing deep for James, who rushed infield from the opposite flank, though his fellow wing-back headed straight at Ramos. Down the other end, Cumming did well to intercept a teasing centre from Alberto and punched the ball to safety with Augusto Galvan lurking dangerously.
Real’s determined play out from their goalkeeper threatened to prove their downfall as the half progressed, with the visitors pressing high and often regaining possession. One such steal led to a sight at goal for Chalobah but the 18-year-old could not steer his drive on target. Ramos did have work to do before the break as St Clair teed up McCormick, who fired low but straight at the keeper, before Edwards’s side grabbed a significant third goal in stoppage time.
It was the James-Redan combination that did the damage again, the wing-back supplying another cross that proved impossible to defend and Redan arriving in the right place at the right time to turn the ball in for his 14th goal of the campaign.
Real restarted with a change that saw the introduction of Alvarez, though they struggled to test Cumming in the early stages of the second period. Oscar had another set-piece opportunity with which to cause trouble but this time saw the ball safely claimed by Cumming. Alberto and Cesar then struck at goal without forcing our keeper into action before Sterling had a chance to put the contest to bed.
St Clair made ground down the left wing with a purposeful run before picking out Sterling at the back post, the defender having switched roles with James at half-time and now operating more advanced on the right. The ball came in with pace and proved too difficult for the teenager to keep on target.
That proved crucial when Real Madrid pulled a goal back on the hour mark through substitute Alvarez, who stooped low to guide a cushioned header in off the post after Real had rattled the crossbar with a shot from outside the box. With the score at 3-2 and the tie just a one-legged affair, it promised to be an open final 30 minutes as the rain returned in Madrid.
The woodwork was struck for the third time in the afternoon as McCormick was denied a second after 65 minutes, the midfielder racing to meet a cross from Castillo but only able to direct his header on to the base of the post.
Yet there was plenty of drama remaining as the German referee brandished a red card with 22 minutes remaining, deeming a seemingly routine tackle in midfield from Maddox as warranting instant dismissal. It looked harsh on the visitors but their complaints fell on deaf ears as they were forced to face a nervy finale with a numerical disadvantage.
Castillo and Grant were forced into exceptional defensive work as the Blues battled doggedly, the Dutchman sliding to make a crucial block from Alvarez before Grant’s last-ditch header cleared the danger in the six-yard box. Edwards made changes in an attempt to stem the flow, introducing Conor Gallagher and George McEachran to the midfield, the latter replacing Ampadu after the defender was forced to withdraw with an injury after a hefty collision.
The scene was set for a spectacular finale and Cumming played his part with seven minutes remaining, reacting with instant reflexes to claw away a point-blank effort from Alvarez. The substitute was gifted one last chance before the final whistle but could only produce a weak header after finding himself in space in the box.
St Clair should have sealed the win on the break, beating the offside trap to race clear in behind, though his shot was fired straight into the legs of Ramos. However, there was no reprieve for Real when the forward ran through again deep into stoppage time as the goalkeeper missed his kick and the 19-year-old walked the ball into the empty net, arms aloft in celebration.
The win seals our return to Nyon for the semi-finals next month, where we will take on FC Porto on 20 April.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Jamie Cumming; Dujon Sterling, Ethan Ampadu (George McEachran 80), Josh Grant (c); Reece James (Martell Taylor-Crossdale 84), Trevoh Chalobah, Jacob Maddox, Juan Castillo; Luke McCormick, Harvey St Clair; Daishawn Redan (Conor Gallagher 73)
Unused subs Marcin Bulka, Joseph Colley, Cole Dasilva, Marc Guehi
Scorers McCormick 14; Redan 19, 45+2; St Clair 90+5
Booked Redan 29; Chalobah 46
Sent off Maddox 68
Real Madrid (4-3-3) Mohamet Ramos; Sergio Lopez, Alex Martin, Victor Chust, Francisco Garcia; Martin (c) (Moha 63), Oscar, Miguel Baeza; Alberto, Cesar, Augusto Galvan (Ismael Alvarez h/t)
Unused subs Diego Altube Suarez, Antonio Blanco, Alejandro Zekri, Miguel Gutierrez Ortega, Diego Hernandez Luengo
Scorers Oscar 6; Alvarez 59
Booked Chust 35
Referee Daniel Siebert (GER)
-Chelsea TV will screen highlights at 7.30pm tomorrow (Thursday).