Chelsea Under-19s captain Luke McCormick has called on his team-mates to prove their worth as our youngsters prepare for a UEFA Youth League semi-final tie against Barcelona in Switzerland tomorrow (Friday).
The Blues, two-times winners and finalists last year, are top scorers in this season’s competition after advancing through the Domestic Champions path with 14-1 and 9-0 aggregate victories over Scandinavian opposition.
French resistance proved more robust in the form of Monaco and Montpellier, the latter only seen off courtesy of a late winner from McCormick, before the captain stepped up again in the quarter-final against Dinamo Zagreb. With the hosts trailing 2-0 at Cobham heading into the final 15 minutes, the 20-year-old struck twice to keep the team alive.
‘I do feel responsibility personally being one of the over-age players this season, having played in the competition and got a lot of experience last year,’ McCormick tells the official Chelsea website as we look ahead to the Catalan contest.
‘A lot of players are capable of doing what I’ve done – they showed that in the earlier rounds. It’s been a real collective effort in this campaign so hopefully we can continue that. We’ve been focused for the whole season on this competition so it’s been almost tunnel vision in a way. This is the big one for us and to win it would be brilliant because of what happened last year.’
This last-four encounter is a repeat of the 2018 final in which Joe Edwards’s side were disappointingly beaten 3-0 in Nyon by Barcelona. Eight of the side who featured last April have represented the young Blues in Europe again this term, though McCormick believes it is a quest for respect and recognition, not revenge, that is driving the Chelsea dressing room.
‘The Porto game [last year’s semi-final] almost seemed like a final before we played Barcelona but then I felt we were tired,’ he says. ‘We didn’t turn up and obviously we were punished by a good team.
‘We’ve all got a point to prove, the boys that were involved and the ones who didn’t play, but we’re a different team and they’re a different team so it’s not revenge.
'We’re not angry, we just want to prove a point that we’re Chelsea and we’re here to win so hopefully we can do that and get the job done.’
— Luke McCormick
Our place in the semi-finals was secured in dramatic fashion, with McCormick’s late brace followed by an incredible penalty shoot-out in which all four Blues players converted in impressive fashion. The skipper stepped up first and drilled the opening spot-kick into the back of the net, before increasingly extravagant efforts were dispatched from 12 yards.
While the shoot-out drew attention in some quarters for its eye-catching nature, McCormick reiterates that such confidence and composure are the consequence of months of planning and subtle detail.
‘A lot of people think that penalty shoot-outs are a lottery but there are little techniques that can add the small percentages to swing it your way,’ he continues. ‘We work on those a lot and since September we’ve been practising penalties so it’s obviously something that we’ve prepared for.
‘We’re all confident stepping up - to score four on the bounce was great and Karlo [Ziger] was brilliant with his saves. He’d watched a lot of footage so it wasn’t just a coincidence. It was a lot of hard work and then obviously he has to produce and make the saves.’
Barcelona are the only club with as many Youth League titles as Chelsea (two each) and the two head to Switzerland with the same number of games won in the competition’s six-year history (36). The tie therefore represents a heavyweight contest and McCormick believes the young Blues must be at their best to advance into Monday’s final.
‘They’re a good team throughout but our coaches are more than prepared for that, and as players we will take all the information on board,' the skipper adds. 'We’re not going to be worried about them, we’re worried about us. We know if we turn up on the day then we’ll get the job done.
‘It’s going to be a tough game. Barcelona and Chelsea are two massive clubs, two giants of football with brilliant set-ups and both have proven they can do it in the Youth League. We know 90 minutes is 90 minutes and anything can happen in football.
‘They’re going to be good players because it’s Barcelona, it’s a brilliant football club and obviously they have a brilliant youth squad as well, but we do too. We just have to prepare the best we can and turn up ready to prove a point.’
Chelsea versus Barcelona kicks off at 5pm (UK time) at the Colovray Sports Centre on Friday. The game is being screened live on BT Sport 1 and there will coverage throughout the day on our official @chelseafc Twitter.