Our youngsters are one game away from being crowned Under-19 European champions as they prepare to face Porto in the UEFA Youth League final in Switzerland this evening. The game kicks off at 5pm (UK time) and is live on BT Sport.
Joe Edwards’s side triumphed in a thrilling semi-final at the Colovray Stadium on Friday, twice coming from behind against Barcelona before winning on penalties, and it’s back to the ground that sits across the road from UEFA headquarters for the chance to lift a record third Youth League title.
‘It’s really exciting to be back in another final and it should be a really good game,’ says Edwards as we look ahead to the big game. ‘Losing the final last season was a huge disappointment but the biggest frustration for us that night was how we played. Now we’ve earned ourselves an opportunity to play on the big stage again and we want to give the best account of ourselves.
‘We really wanted to get our trophy back at the start of this competition. It’s been a long journey to get here and now we’ve got one big hurdle left but we’re ready for it.’
The Blues have battled their way back to the final. In the quarter-final against Dinamo Zagreb, they looked a beaten side at 2-0 down before two Luke McCormick goals took the game to a shoot-out, which we won in amazing fashion. There were also difficult spells against Barcelona and Edwards believes his side’s ability to ride through those challenges has been key.
‘This competition is all about turning up for the big moments, particularly in the difficult times of those games,’ he continues. ‘We suffered against Barcelona, going behind twice, and it’s important that the boys do themselves justice again. If they do, we’ve got a great chance.
‘We put a lot of effort into the Barcelona game so now we have to make sure there’s no come-down. It was important that the boys enjoyed that moment because they deserved it and we saw that in our camp after the game but we’ve quickly refocused so we know what to expect from Porto.’
Karlo Ziger, our goalkeeper, was the hero again on Friday with a shoot-out save in sudden death and the Croatian believes hard work and bravery were crucial components of our victory over the Catalans.
‘We were raring to go from the start,’ he reflects. ‘We worked really hard throughout the whole game and we never felt like we were going to lose it. We were brave and now we’re in the final so yet again we’re raring to go to win this trophy.’
The 17-year-old admits his penalty-saving efforts in the semi-final were more instinctive than the win over Dinamo Zagreb, with his match-winning save a result of good guesswork as much as homework.
‘I had the feeling that he was going to go to that side because he’s a left-footer so I just chose to dive to my left and I saved it so it was amazing,’ he explains.
‘It was a great feeling but now it’s gone and we have another game to focus on.’
— Karlo Ziger
Edwards and his players are now 90 minutes away from an incredible achievement. While Premier League 2 and Checkatrade Trophy football asks plenty of tough questions of our players given the young age of the group, the boss believes his side are able to show their true colours when up against their continental contemporaries. Now, he is eyeing one last big performance from his boys to add a trophy-winning gloss to a solid season.
‘Sometimes when you go from the Under-18s to the development squad at Chelsea it can be a bit of a humbling experience because we’re so dominant at youth team level and then it becomes much tougher,’ he adds. ‘We’ve had some difficult nights this season but in our own age group – Under-19s – we’ve shown that we’re capable of competing with the best in Europe.
‘To come away saying we’re the champions of Europe would be a fantastic way to end what has been a productive but challenging season. You have to remember that these are Chelsea Academy boys so they want to be finishing seasons lifting trophies and that’s what we’re going to try to do.’
The final takes place at the Colovray Stadium in the Swiss town of Nyon, home to UEFA headquarters, this evening (Monday). Kick-off is at 5pm UK time and the game will be screened live on BT Sport 1. Watch the video below to see Edwards's dressing room debrief after the semi-final win against Barcelona.