It was heartbreak in the UEFA Youth League final for the second year running as Chelsea Under-19s were beaten in Switzerland.
A decent start was quickly undone as Porto took the lead just after the quarter-hour mark through Fabio Vieira and, while we had good chances in the first half through Luke McCormick and Conor Gallagher, it was a familiar feeling of being behind that engulfed the Chelsea dressing room at the break.
Such difficulties have rarely kept our youngsters down for long though and they came out for the second half reinvigorated, quickly equalising when Daishawn Redan headed in a cross from countryman Juan Castillo.
However, Porto restored their advantage almost immediately as Diogo Queiros bundled the ball over the line from close quarters and a third goal from substitute Afonso Sousa effectively put the final beyond us with 15 minutes remaining. The result means defeat for Joe Edwards’s youngsters at the final hurdle once again despite a proud performance and an eventful run to the showpiece occasion in Nyon.
Edwards named an unchanged line-up for our second game in four days in Switzerland, opting for Redan to lead the attack and continuing with a 3-4-2-1 shape, with McCormick and Gallagher offering the advanced forward support from midfield.
Karlo Ziger continued in goal after his penalty shoot-out heroics in the previous two rounds and a three-man defence of Marc Guehi, Joseph Colley and Ian Maatsen provided protection to our keeper. The latter pair were completing a 100 per cent starting record in this season’s competition. Tariq Lamptey and Juan Castillo retained their places at wing-back, while Billy Gilmour partnered George McEachran in the middle.
Like the Blues, Porto fielded five players who had featured in last season’s semi-final, including both goalscorers Diogo Queiros and Joao Mario. Yet it was at the other end of the field that the Dragons came into the contest with such strength, having not conceded for 450 minutes since the group stage.
That defensive resilience was put to the test early on after a bright start from the two-time winners, with our wide players offering the outlet. Lamptey caused left-back Tiago Lopes plenty of problems with his pace and direct running, though Gallagher then McCormick failed to keep shots down after the wing-back cut the ball back.
Porto grew into the contest and ought to have been in front after 15 minutes as Joao Mario played in Fabio Silva, though the striker scuffed his finish after rounding Ziger and the ball was quickly cleared to safety. It was 1-0 to the Portuguese side moments later though as another attack down the right paid dividends, Angel Torres delivering for Vieira to turn into an unguarded goal for the opener.
Edwards’s side were suddenly struggling and faced with the uphill battle of coming from behind again, just like they had in the quarter-final and semi-final. Their challenge could have been far greater had Joao Mario done better with a sight at goal after getting in down the left, though Ziger stood tall and made a smart stop at the near post.
Colley then threw his body between Joao Mario and the goal to keep the winger’s strike at bay following a floated free-kick sent into our box. Down the other end, Porto restricted us to half-chances where Gilmour fired low but tame and Gallagher’s effort was blocked on the edge of the 18-yard box.
While we controlled the possession statistics, the better chances were being created against us and the lively Joao Mario saw an attempt whistle across goal and just a foot past the far post with 35 minutes on the clock.
However, it was Edwards’s boys who ended the first period in the ascendancy with two excellent opportunities. McCormick had the first, latching on to Mor Ndiaye’s weak header back to the keeper, but the skipper failed to beat Diogo Costa on his weaker left side. In the final minute of the half, Castillo’s free-kick was promisingly positioned but fired too high over the crossbar.
Patience was required and a spirited Chelsea side returned for the restart, back on the front foot and level in the final within eight minutes. It was Redan’s fifth Youth League goal of the season that made it 1-1 as the Dutch striker combined with compatriot Castillo, nodding the wideman’s inswinging cross beyond the stranded goalkeeper and into the back of the net.
Relief quickly turned to despair as Friday’s failure to maintain parity for more than a few minutes returned. Ziger initially kept us level with a brilliant save to push over Diogo Leite’s close-range header but the Croatian could count himself incredibly unlucky to see the ball bounce over his goal-line from the resulting corner. A deep delivery was sent towards Fabio Silva at the far post and his recycled cross was eventually bundled in by Queiros as Ziger was beaten in the melee.
Once again, the young Blues were being asked to overturn a deficit against strong opponents, just 72 hours after a bruising semi-final contest against Barcelona. They kept plucking away and McCormick’s energy was key to our endeavours, his strong run into the box eventually falling for Castillo, whose calls for a penalty were turned away.
The left-sided attacker then got in again down the wing but a heavy touch opened the window of opportunity for Leite to get across and make a crucial last-ditch tackle. That intervention proved even more important when Porto doubled their lead with 15 minutes left to play through substitute Sousa, who crashed a precise finish past Ziger via the inside of the post.
Edwards responded with changes, introducing Tino Anjorin and Charlie Brown as desperate times called for increasingly drastic measures. Yet it was Porto with the better chances in the latter stages as the Blues ran out of gas and suffered another devastating defeat in the European final.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1) Karlo Ziger; Joseph Colley, Marc Guehi, Ian Maatsen; Tariq Lamptey (Charlie Brown 76), Billy Gilmour, George McEachran, Juan Castillo; Luke McCormick (c), Conor Gallagher (Tino Anjorin 76); Daishawn Redan
Unused subs Clinton Mola, Nicolas Tie, Marcel Lavinier, George Nunn, Henry Lawrence
Scorer Redan 53
Booked McCormick, Maatsen
Porto (4-4-2) Diogo Costa; Tomas Esteves, Diogo Queiros, Diogo Leite, Tiago Lopes; Joao Mario (Afonso Sousa 63), Mor Ndiaye, Fabio Vieira (Vitor Ferreira 71), Angel Torres; Fabio Silva (Boris Takang 89), Romario Baro (Goncalo Borges 89)
Unused subs Francisco Meixedo, Tiago Matos, Pedro Justiniano
Scorers Vieira 17; Queiros 55; Sousa 75
Booked Vieira, Torres, Ndiaye
Referee Francois Letexier (FRA)