The comeback kids were at it again in Nyon, twice coming from behind to level in 90 minutes before holding their nerve to triumph once again in a penalty shoot-out and progress past Barcelona into this season’s UEFA Youth League final.
Our Under-19s were brilliant on the big stage, matching the Catalans and working tirelessly across the pitch to close down opponents and spaces. Luke McCormick produced another captain’s moment to draw us level midway through the second half but real character was required when Barca, the holders and winners of last season’s final between the two sides, restored their lead within three minutes.
There were just moments to spare when Charlie Brown came off the bench to fire a second leveller into the roof of the net, becoming the competition’s all-time leading goalscorer in the process, and ensuring the last-four contest would be decided by spot-kicks.
Just like in the quarter-final against Dinamo Zagreb, the young Blues triumphed from 12 yards, with 17-year-olds Tino Anjorin and Ian Maatsen among those to convert before Karlo Ziger produced the goalkeeping heroics once more to send us into Monday’s final against Porto.
After a rollercoaster game, manager Joe Edwards found the words to sum up another dramatic day for his side in the Youth League, reflecting on his pride in such an impressive display.
‘I’m really proud of the performance of the players,’ our Under-19s boss said afterwards. ‘It’s a great game to be a part of and both teams showed why this was the tie everyone looked forward to between the two most successful academies in the competition’s history. It didn’t let anyone down because it was a fantastic game.
‘All credit to Barcelona because the way they moved the ball in the opening part of the game was outstanding but we were quite pleased with how we were pressing them. Daishawn Redan did a great job for us – it’s so important not only the work-rate to press from the front against Barcelona and try to nullify what they do, but to get the decision-making right of when to go on the keeper and when to go on the holding player. I felt he led our press really well.’
It was a pressing game that brought increasing rewards for the Blues, with Redan forcing a mistake from the Barca keeper in the build-up to our first equaliser. However, a quick reply asked even more questions of the youngsters and Edwards felt they came up with all the answers in a thrilling second half.
‘We had to show character,’ he continued. ‘We didn’t want to make it too much about last year’s game against them but we did reflect about how you have to suffer at times without possession and how you have to deal with the setbacks when they come along. Our reaction in the second half was outstanding, we dominated the game and were much the better team.
‘If the game had gone on a bit longer I believe we’d have got the winner. We had some bad luck with a fantastic short corner routine that came off but got blocked on the line, then there was a goalmouth scramble where Tino and Charlie had some chances, but it wasn’t to be.
‘Penalties can obviously be a bit of luck sometimes and maybe it was – we missed one ourselves but ultimately, over the course of the game, we were deserved winners.’
— Joe Edwards
Attentions quickly turn to the final, which comes 72 hours on from the semis, and will be a repeat of last year’s meeting between Chelsea and Porto. The Portuguese side were impressive in beating Hoffenheim 3-0 and Edwards expects another testing afternoon on the banks of Lake Geneva.
‘Most of our preparation will be done indoors with conversations and a lot of watching video because we’re very limited in what we can do on the pitch,’ he explains. ‘You could see at the end the toll the game had taken on both sets of players. Our boys have given everything – they agreed before the game that they wouldn’t leave anything on the pitch and I don’t think they did.
‘We watched the first semi-final so we know that Porto are a physically strong team and we’re going to need everything we’ve got back in the tank. We played them last season and won on penalties in the semi-final but it was a game that could have gone either way really.
'They’re a very strong team and it will be a very difficult game but you’d expect nothing less in the final of a European competition. It’s one more to go, we’ll prepare as best we can and try to match the performance levels of that second half because we were really pleased with that.’
The final takes place at the Colovray Stadium in the Swiss town of Nyon, home to UEFA headquarters, this Monday 29 April. Kick-off is at 5pm UK time and the game will be screened live on BT Sport 1.