A place in the last-16 was the reward for a measured performance from our Under-19s in the UEFA Youth League as they triumphed 3-1 over AS Monaco in the play-off round.
Petr Cech, John Terry and Eden Hazard were among the interested spectators at Cobham and the crowd were treated to three special Chelsea goals before the French visitors pulled back a consolation late on. Charlie Brown bagged a double either side of the interval before Conor Gallagher bent in a brilliant free-kick to seal the win and ensure our safe passage to the next round in a competition we finished runners-up in last term.
After the game, manager Joe Edwards praised his side’s ability to adapt to opponents who offered significantly more threat than Molde and IF Elfsborg in previous rounds.
‘It was a big step up for us in this competition and you could see the quality of Monaco early on when they looked the most dangerous with a couple of runs in behind,’ he told the official Chelsea website. ‘They had pace, power and skill with some really talented young players of European football so it was always going to be a big test.
‘We knew they would be able to keep the ball well but we executed our game plan brilliantly, particularly with the work-rate and togetherness we showed even with the ball being played at such speed. Daishawn Redan and Charlie Brown led the line really well, pressing with intelligence not just hard work, knowing when to do it when we were all together and when to hold our shape, but then equally acting as an outlet up front together. They caused Monaco a lot of problems.’
Brown’s brace kept him at the top of the individual scoring charts in this season’s competition and took him just one behind the all-time Youth League record of 15 goals. The striker claimed practise on the training pitch had paid dividends for him, particularly with his second-half blast from 30 yards that flew past the goalkeeper.
‘I’m just buzzing to score two, particularly as we knew it was going to be a step up from the previous rounds,’ he said. ‘The first one was an instinctive finish - I just had a little look and then blasted it across the keeper. The second was a shot I’ve been practising in training so when I got half a yard of space I just hit it the way I’ve been practising and thankfully it came off.
‘It was a really tough game because Monaco are a very good team but we defended really well and I thought we deserved the win. We’ve been working a lot in training off the ball especially and we managed to take everything we had practised on to the pitch. Every player put in a proper shift and did their job properly, which is why we came out with the win.’
Edwards was pleased to see his side add quality in the final third, a subtlety that has been lacking in recent weeks. He applauded the execution of all three goals and hopes his side will be able to take the confidence from such a big victory into the latter stages of a competition in which they have enjoyed plenty of success in recent years.
‘I can rarely fault the work-rate and honesty of this group but we’ve just been lacking a bit of quality and execution, particularly in our home games which has cost us,' continued our Under-19s boss. 'Back in a competition where we play in our own age group, it was the polar opposite and we scored three fantastic goals.
‘The first was an excellent team goal – great composure to play out from the back, some lovely combinations between Billy Gilmour and Juan Castillo, and then a fantastic finish from Charlie.'
— Joe Edwards
'It settled us because we all know our recent home form has been poor and going behind in games isn’t helping our confidence so that gave us a big lift. The game was always tight, which it should be at this level, but we were able to get the second goal early after half-time and it was another brilliant strike from Charlie. In the second half we had to suffer long spells without the ball at times but we always looked a threat on the break and that’s where the third goal came from.
‘We had to be at our best and these are the demands we want from this competition. In the league and Checkatrade Trophy, it can be a real challenge for us playing against boys a few years older but in our own age group we look strong, powerful and managed the game really well. Hopefully a good win like this can give us a lot of confidence for the next round.’
The Blues will discover their last-16 opponents when the draw is made in Switzerland on Friday. There is no country protection for the one-legged tie, which can be either home or away.