Our youngsters gave it everything on the big stage, coming from behind yet again in the UEFA Youth League, but they finally fell at the last hurdle as Porto triumphed 3-1 in the final and denied the Blues a record third Under-19 European title.
The Dragons took the lead and asked familiar questions of Joe Edwards’s side, who had trailed in the quarter-final tie against Dinamo Zagreb and Friday’s semi-final with Barcelona, only leading for nine minutes of knockout football during this year’s campaign.
While Daishawn Redan’s header pulled us level, Porto restored their advantage within two minutes and the two-time winners never looked like coming back for a second time. However after the game, a proud Edwards was quick to praise the effort and spirit of his young side.
‘It’s another heartbreaking defeat but it’s such a different feeling for us compared to last year,’ he said, reflecting on a 3-0 loss to Barcelona in the final 12 months previously. ‘There’s no nice version of losing, for the coaches or the players, but last year we were angry with ourselves because we felt like we’d let ourselves down.
‘I said to the players afterwards that this year we’ve come to Nyon and done everything we could have, given all we can, as this group of players have done all season.
‘For large parts of the game I thought we were the better team in terms of the way we were trying to play. We knew that Porto are an extremely solid team, difficult to beat, and they’ve got talented players that are a threat on the break as well but we played a lot of our football with a clear plan.’
Part of that plan was to hurt the Portuguese side down the flanks, utilising the pace and direct running of wing-backs Juan Castillo and Tariq Lamptey in our 3-4-2-1 system.
‘We knew we’d have to hurt them down the sides because they have a lot of strength and size at the back and I felt the first 20 minutes couldn’t have gone any more to plan,’ continued Edwards. ‘We looked confident, we were on the front foot and moving the ball around – exactly how you would want to see a young Chelsea team playing. We got the ball wide well and we had some good chances in the first half but they were a bit more clinical than us in front of goal.’
The hammer blow came when Porto bundled in their second 10 minutes after half-time and the young Blues were unable to recover their composure.
‘When you get back level and then concede again straight away, as we did early in the second half, it’s a killer,’ admitted the boss. ‘It may be a bit of naivety but I want to give these boys more credit that just saying they’re young and they’ll learn from it because they know already and they’re better than that.
Maybe a bit of excitement crept in at drawing level and we left ourselves a bit too exposed when we didn’t need to. We still had plenty of time left when we got it back to 1-1 and even at 2-1 down I didn’t doubt that every one of our players still had a lot of belief that we were in it.
‘A third goal is always a killer blow though and after that the game became scrappy and stop-start, making it very hard to get any rhythm to our play. I was surprised by how direct they were but all credit to them, they’ve got some talented players at the top of the pitch and they punished us.’
Another defeat in the final was a devastating way to end the campaign for our Under-19s but a consecutive year as runners-up is hardly a feat to be ashamed of, particularly given the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ethan Ampadu and on-loan duo Reece James and Mason Mount are still eligible to play for this age group.
While it was silver again for the Blues, they can return home with their heads held high.