A brace from Charlie Brown and a brilliant free-kick from Conor Gallagher helped Chelsea Under-19s to victory in the UEFA Youth League at Cobham this evening (Tuesday), condemning Monaco to a 3-1 defeat and booking a place in the last-16 for Joe Edwards’s side.
It was a mature and measured performance from the Blues, demonstrating defensive resilience in the face of a quick start from the visitors before finding final-third quality with three excellent goals. Charlie Brown bagged a double either side of the interval to continue his record of netting in every tie this campaign, while Conor Gallagher made sure of the win with an excellent free-kick buried into the top corner.
The French side pulled one goal back late on but it was a case of too little, too late as we held strong and held on to advance to the next round.
Edwards lined up with his preferred 3-5-2 system for our first one-legged knockout tie in this season’s competition. Jamie Cumming was able to recover from an injury that forced him into an early withdrawal in last week’s league defeat to Swansea to start in goal, behind a back three of Joseph Colley, Marc Guehi and Ian Maatsen.
Tariq Lamptey was another returning from a spell on the sidelines and the diminutive defender started at right wing-back opposite Juan Castillo on the opposite flank. Billy Gilmour, Gallagher and George McEachran formed a strong central midfield, while Daishawn Redan partnered Brown up front.
Monaco finished runners-up to Atletico Madrid in the group stage, setting up this play-off tie prior to the last-16 stage, and the French side fielded a strong team including summer signing Willem Geubbels, who became the youngest ever Europa League debutant in December.
It was the visitors who started brightest as the sun set at Cobham, attacking with speed through the pacey front two of Lyle Foster and Geubbels. They forced Cumming into early action as Foster fired low but straight at the keeper after escaping in behind, before Roberto Navarro struck the rebound into Cumming’s grateful gloves.
Another incisive forward move threatened the breakthrough after 12 minutes as Geubbels scampered through on goal down the left channel but the 17-year-old could only fire into the side-netting in a let-off for the hosts. It was to prove the forward’s final action as a knock forced his premature withdrawal with just a quarter of the contest played.
Monaco were aggressive and passionate all over the pitch, occasionally pushing the limits too far, and captain Amilcar Silva’s booking after just a few minutes for a wild challenge on Lamptey left the full-back walking on a disciplinary tightrope. There were penalty appeals down both ends waved away by the Icelandic officials, the most vocal from the visitors for a handball by Maatsen on the byline.
The Blues were probing without threatening the goal of Yanis Henin and it was the young Frenchmen who continued to look likeliest to break the deadlock. Enzo Millot swung in a teasing corner as the half-hour approached and Giulian Biancone rose highest in the box but couldn’t direct his header on target.
Down the other end, Brown was handed our first genuinely promising opportunity as a long ball forward from Guehi floated into the forward’s path. He advanced dangerously but seemed caught in between shooting and laying off for strike partner Redan, with the ball eventually deflecting behind and away from danger.
The visitors continued to use their strength and physicality to over-power our youngsters in certain areas of the pitch. They forced Cumming into another good save 10 minutes before half-time with a free-kick from 20 yards out, bent towards the top corner powerfully by Silva but punched over the crossbar.
With the game heading for a stalemate at the break, a moment of quality handed Edwards’s side a cushion in the tie. Castillo and Gilmour combined neatly on the left, the Dutchman returning a pass with a neat flick before Gilmour advanced to play a clever reverse pass for Brown. The goal was gaping in front of the competition’s top scorer and he made no mistake with his finish on this occasion, rifling the ball across Henin and into the far corner.
It was the perfect time to score and epitomised a mature performance from the Blues, soaking up pressure but still managing to fashion chances in attack. They restarted positively too and Colley troubled the defenders when getting on the end of a set-piece, though the captain’s header was matched by a similarly impressive save from Henin.
A place in the last-16 awaited the winners of this tie and those rising stakes added pressure to a hard-fought contest. Redan had a chance to settle those nerves as he capitalised on a mistake from Jon Panzo, the former Chelsea scholar, and raced clear one-on-one with Henin but the Moroccan stopper flung out a foot and managed to kick the ball clear.
Down the other end, Mehdi Zerkane latched on to the loose ball after a Monaco corner was successfully recycled but the wideman was unable to keep his volley from spinning wide of Cumming’s upright.
A cushion was established by the home side after 56 minutes when Brown doubled his and the team’s tally with his 11th goal in this term’s competition. It was another sweet strike from the 19-year-old as he picked up possession 30 yards out and smashed the ball emphatically through the air and beyond the despairing dive of the goalkeeper.
Despite Monaco responding with a period of controlled possession, our lead never looked in doubt as we defended sensibly in our own half. McEachran almost added a third with a curling effort that dropped on to the roof of the net before Gallagher sealed the result with 13 minutes remaining. The midfielder stood over an inviting free-kick on the edge of the box and bent in a brilliant effort that nestled in the top corner.
There was the smallest hint of a lifeline for the visitors when Kephram Thuram-Ulien reduced the deficit late in the game, another eye-catching attempt that left Cumming grasping thin air, but the loss of our clean sheet would not overshadow an impressive display. The Blues will find out their next round opponents when the draw is made in Nyon on Friday.
Chelsea (3-5-2) Jamie Cumming; Joseph Colley (c), Marc Guehi, Ian Maatsen; Tariq Lamptey (Henry Lawrence 83), Conor Gallagher, George McEachran, Billy Gilmour, Juan Castillo; Daishawn Redan, Charlie Brown
Unused subs Karlo Ziger, Clinton Mola, Sam McClelland, Marcel Lavinier, George Nunn, Jonathan Russell
Scorers Brown 41, 56; Gallagher 77
AS Monaco (4-4-2) Yanis Henin; Giulian Biancone, Chrislain Matsima, Jonathan Panzo, Amilcar Silva (c); Mehdi Zerkane (Louis Torres 89), Kephren Thuram-Ulien, Enzo Millot, Roberto Navarro (Ridge Duah-Adusei 79); Willem Guebbels (Florian Antognelli 22), Lyle Foster
Unused subs Jeremi Abonnel, Fouad El Maach, Cheickne Yaffa
Scorer Thuram-Ulien 85
Booked Silva, Thuram-Ulien
Referee Vilhjalmur Thorarinsson (ISL)
-Additional pictures courtesy of Dan Davies and Mark Sandom