Chelsea Under-19s battled their way through a brilliant semi-final against Barcelona, twice coming from behind again with goals from Luke McCormick and Charlie Brown, before another penalty shoot-out triumph secured their place in Monday’s final.
Anssumane Fati scored in both halves to put the holders in front but Joe Edwards’s side fought bravely to the end. Luke McCormick made it 1-1 and Charlie Brown fired into the roof of the net to make it 2-2 before Karlo Ziger provided the heroics again to save in the shoot-out. The Blues will take on Porto in the final in Switzerland at the start of next week as they aim to win the trophy for a record third time.
Edwards opted for one up front and a midfield box as he plotted a way to avenge a 3-0 loss in last season’s final against the kids from Catalonia. Daishawn Redan was preferred to Brown in attack in the only change from our quarter-final victory over Dinamo Zagreb at the start of the month.
That meant Ziger continued in goal following his penalty shoot-out heroics against his countrymen, with the Croatian protected by a back three of Joseph Colley, Marc Guehi and Ian Maatsen. McCormick, captain and scorer of three of our last four Youth League goals, continued in an advanced midfield role alongside Conor Gallagher, with George McEachran and Billy Gilmour deeper. Juan Castillo and Tariq Lamptey also continued at wing-back.
For the Blues, six of the starters featured in the meeting between the two sides 12 months previously, while Barcelona had five returning including striker Alejandro Marques, who bagged a brace in that final.
It was a bright start from the holders, who called Ziger into pressing action within the opening five minutes after an attack down the left. The lively left-back Juan Miranda fired a volley that required an expert stop before our keeper reacted quickly to keep out Monchu’s effort on the rebound.
They were vital saves to prevent us falling behind early on, though Barcelona were quickest to settle and controlled the proceedings in the first 15 minutes, albeit without further threatening the Chelsea goal. Our first opportunity of note came courtesy of Gilmour’s hassling and Redan’s running, the Dutchman racing down the right channel and firing a low shot that was kicked behind by Arnau Tenas, the Spanish keeper. From the resulting corner, Colley won the header but Barca scrambled the ball away off the goal-line amid loud appeals for a handball.
The deadlock was broken with 20 minutes on the clock and it came courtesy of Barcelona’s two wingers. Konrad De La Fuente had enjoyed a productive start and it was he who escaped the attentions of Castillo and delivered a low cross for Fati to convert at the back post.
A slow start had been punished but Edwards’s side improved throughout the first half. Gallagher’s free-kick was a decent hit but proved an easy catch for Tenas, while Marques went close with a header from Guillem Jaime’s delivery that flashed inches wide.
The Blues were enjoying increasing success when pressing high to turnover possession and earned plenty of the ball but were lacking a crispness in the final pass, resulting in a lack of chance creation in the final third. The one sight at goal that almost fell our way was quickly snuffed out by Oscar Mingueza, who produced a last-ditch clearance to deny Redan a clear strike from eight yards out.
Yet it was Barcelona who ended the half as they had started it, unlucky not to add further to their lead. Monchu fired over after a corner was pulled back into his path on the edge of the box, while Miranda saw his header drop just off-target as the half-time whistle came at a good moment to allow us to regroup.
Ziger was quickly back in action after the restart, pushing away Miranda’s cross and then thwarting De La Fuente as the wideman cut in from the right and drilled a shot towards the near post.
Down the other end, McCormick was growing in influence and impact. A shot from the edge of the box was rather comfortably fired straight at Tenas but the skipper gave the keeper more to think about moments later when he picked up the ball in space and drove into the box. A powerful run took him beyond two defenders but the angle was always against him on his weaker left side and Tenas was able to make the save.
However, our passing was much sharper and there was a growing sense that a recovery was on the cards. McCormick remained at the heart of our comeback plans, the midfielder’s header routinely gathered after 65 minutes, but there was nothing Tenas could do soon afterwards as the goalkeeper’s error was expertly punished.
It was another misjudged short pass out that caused the problem as Redan intercepted and laid it off for McCormick, who had the composure and confidence to steer his finish beyond a recovering defender on the line. The scores were level and the Blues deserved it but their parity lasted only a few minutes as Barca fired straight back.
Fati was the man in the right place at the right time again, latching on to the loose ball after Ziger had parried a stinging strike from distance, and the winger dispatched the ball with precision to make it 2-1.
Our response was good again and Gallagher twice went close, bending a dipping effort just over before he caught Gilmour’s diagonal pass sweetly on the volley and forced a good near-post save from Tenas. Redan then thought he had found the net but was kept out by his own team-mate as Tino Anjorin got in the way, before the latter had a great chance but his shot was weak and easily saved.
The second equaliser came with five minutes to spare and it was Brown on hand to smash in a brilliant leveller to take him level as the joint Youth League all-time top scorer. Guehi won the knockdown in the six-yard box and the substitute striker provided the finish to take the semi-final to penalties.
It was a nerve-racking shoot-out for the Blues, with Gallagher missing first, but his team-mates were flawless from 12 yards and Ziger saved in sudden death to avenge last year’s defeat and send us to the final.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Karlo Ziger; Joseph Colley, Marc Guehi, Ian Maatsen; Tariq Lamptey, Conor Gallagher, Billy Gilmour, Juan Castillo; Luke McCormick (c) (Tino Anjorin 72), George McEachran; Daishawn Redan (Charlie Brown 78)
Unused subs Nicolas Tie, George Nunn, Henry Lawrence, Marcel Lavinier, Clinton Mola
Scorers McCormick 66; Brown 85
Booked Redan, Castillo
Barcelona (4-3-3) Arnau Tenas; Guillem Jaime, Oscar Mingueza, Mika Medina, Juan Miranda; Antonio Jesus, Jandro Orellana, Monchu (c) (Lucas de Vega 80); Konrad De La Fuente (Peque 83), Alejandro Marques, Anssumane Fati
Unused subs Sergi Rosanas, Pol Tristan Jimenez, Nicolas Gonzalez, Jose Martinez Marsa, Nils Mortimer
Scorer Fati 20, 69
Booked Antonio Jesus, Monchu, Miranda
Referee Denis Silva Puig