Chelsea Under-19s collected our first three points in the UEFA Youth League this season as a goal inside two minutes proved the difference in a well-matched and hard-fought contest in Amsterdam.
Billed as a significant game in the group following just one point collected in our opening two matches beforehand, Andy Myers’s side got the dream opening they were looking for when Thierno Ballo headed in a corner with just seconds on the clock.The remaining 88 minutes were tight and tense, with Ajax pushing and the Blues aware that any mistake could prove fatal. Our defensive endeavours were impressive, focused and resilient up against the group leaders. Goalkeeper Karlo Ziger was largely protected but did his job well when called upon, while Marc Guehi marshalled the back-line with experience that belied his years.
Substitute Tino Anjorin went closest to adding a second but one was ultimately enough for the two-time winners to claim the points at De Toekomst and leave the group wide open at the midway stage, with Ajax and Lille on six points, Chelsea on four and Valencia one.
Myers made five changes from our last outing on the continent, a 2-0 reverse in France against Lille, with two of those enforced as Billy Gilmour was involved with the senior squad ahead of the evening’s Champions League action and Ian Maatsen at the Under-17 World Cup with the Netherlands.
That assignment for the Dutch youngsters had a far greater impact on the Ajax team selection, with seven players who have played for them in the Youth League this season included in the national team squad heading to Brazil.
It was the perfect start for the young Blues in the Dutch capital as Ballo headed us in front with just 103 seconds on the clock. George McEachran acted as provider from a right-sided corner, with five visiting players lined up in a row in the box waiting for the delivery, though it was the Austrian attacking midfield man who snuck in at the near post to plant a firm header into the net for his first Youth League goal.
Ajax responded well to that early setback and skipper Marc Guehi was forced into some smart defending to cut out Tunahan Tasci’s dangerous cross from the left, while Damjan Dostanic spurned a decent sight at goal from inside the box moments later.Tariq Lamptey was also called into rearguard work to thwart a well-worked attack down the left, which appeared to be the home side’s preferred route of advancement, with Christian Rasmussen the man denied.Down the other end, another set-piece almost proved the undoing of the Dutchmen again as McEachran once more stepped over a dead-ball situation. The 19-year-old clipped a lovely pass into the box for Guehi to collect in space at the back post but our recent senior debutant took a while to get the ball under his control and Daan Reiziger, the Ajax goalkeeper, was able to close the angle to make the save.
The first half was generally cagey, with our early goal providing something to defend and hold, setting the tone for Ajax to have much of the play. Terrence Douglas fired harmlessly wide and Guehi got in the way of Quinten Timber’s strike as we capably restricted the danger around Ziger’s goal.It was a pattern of play that continued after the restart, although opportunities were far more limited as the hosts lacked the invention or execution to unlock our defence. It took until the 68th minute for the first notable opening of the second period to arrive, though Rasmussen again spurned the rare sight at goal by slicing his shot off-target.Ziger was then called into action to deny half-time substitute Max de Waal following a promising move down the inside-right channel, with our Croatian keeper reacting well at his near post to push the striker’s effort behind.The stakes were rising with every minute of remaining time that ticked past, though Myers’s ability to introduce Anjorin was a useful outlet and the midfielder sent a shot whistling narrowly wide with 12 minutes remaining.
Ajax’s last chance came in added time after McEachran was guilty of conceding a free-kick 20 yards out but De Waal brought only a simple save from Ziger and with that the points were secured.Next up for the Under-19s is a role reversal as we host the Dutchmen at Cobham in a fortnight.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Karlo Ziger; Dynel Simeu, Marc Guehi (c), Clinton Mola; Tariq Lamptey (Samuel Iling-Junior 50), George McEachran, Xavier Simons (Levi Colwill 73), Henry Lawrence; Thierno Ballo, Marcel Lewis (Tino Anjorin 61); Armando BrojaUnused subs Sam McClelland, Nicolas Tie, Joe Haigh, George NunnScorer Ballo 2Booked Ballo, Ziger, McEachranAjax (4-3-3): Daan Reiziger; Filip Frei, Liam van Gelderen, Nordin Musampa, Terrence Douglas; Enric Llansana (c), Donny Warmerdam (Kian Fitz Jim 73), Quinten Timber; Christian Rasmussen, Damjan Dostanic (Max de Waal h/t), Tunahan Tasci (Joshua Pynadath 73)Unused subs Harm Dieker, Julius Dirksen, Jaymillio PinasBooked Douglas, Warmerdam, De WaalReferee Adrien Jaccottet from Switzerland