Our Under-19s were eliminated from the UEFA Youth League on a breezy afternoon in Valencia as a 2-1 defeat ended our hopes of advancing as one of the top two in Group H.
A lack of opportunities could not be cited as an excuse after Billy Gilmour missed an early penalty and other chances came and went throughout a well-matched contest at the Estadio Antonio Puchades.
Henry Lawrence’s neat finish midway through the first half drew us level and a point would have been enough to keep qualification in our own hands heading into the final group game at home to Lille. However, the Spaniards hit us on the counter-attack in the latter stages through Jordi Escobar to take their maiden win in this season’s competition and send the two-time winners out.
Myers made two alterations from our last outing in this competition, a 1-1 home draw against Ajax three weeks previously. Ian Maatsen and Gilmour were the returning duo to boost the young Blues, who were otherwise unchanged.
The two sides had played out an entertaining six-goal draw at Cobham back in September, a result that was followed by a matchday two defeat in Lille which had given Myers’s men plenty of ground to make up in Group H if they wanted to advance as one of the top two.
After a bright start in the Mediterranean lunchtime sunshine, a perfect opportunity to take an early lead presented itself as Tariq Lamptey was taken out in the box by a late challenge from the retreating striker Escobar.
The move continued and the visitors worked the ball into the back of the net through Armando Broja, though the Belgian referee in charge had already blown his whistle to award a penalty. Gilmour stepped up but his low effort to the goalkeeper’s right was palmed away by Carlos Perez Sanchez, Valencia’s Spanish stopper.
It was a familiar theme throughout the opening quarter of the encounter, with the hosts looking for just their second point in the group against the back-to-back runners-up. Thierno Ballo fashioned a sight at goal after 14 minutes after cutting inside from the left but his shot was too tame, while Lewis Bate’s free-kick from the opposite flank caused problems but was eventually smuggled to safety.
A set-piece then proved our undoing as Los Che broke the deadlock with practically their first foray into the Chelsea box. Tino Anjorin was penalised for a foul on Yunus Musah but the free-kick delivery looked fairly routine until a mistake from Karlo Ziger gave Joseda the gifted chance to prod the ball in from a few yards out.
Character was required and a quick response was needed from the Blues. It was a moment of quality that drew us level just six minutes after the Valencia opener, Bate curling in a teasing cross and Lawrence reacting smartly to fire an instinctive finish into the bottom corner.
Ballo’s speculative effort then smashed into the forehead of Xavi Estacio before Gilmour narrowly missed the target with a dipping free-kick and Anjorin fired just wide.
Against the run of play again, Valencia almost retook the lead with 10 minutes of the first half remaining. An enterprising move down the right saw Pablo Gozalbez played through on goal but the forward shot straight at Ziger and Marc Guehi was well-positioned to hook the rebound clear.
Down the other end, Lamptey’s pace created an opening for Broja but Valencia were again able to stand firm and it was the home side on the front foot after the restart as Joseda almost netted again with a looping header that bounced clear off the crossbar.
Myers’s side had not scored more than one away goal in either of their previous Youth League matches but that was the challenge facing them as the minutes ticked by. Gilmour forced a comfortable save from Perez Sanchez with a pot-shot from distance, while Broja and Ballo saw promising efforts blocked at close quarters.
The more we pushed for a winner, the more likely it looked that Valencia would snatch a goal of their own on the break. Escobar should have done better with his strike having been teed up by the overlapping Estacio from the right but there was no similar reprieve for the young Blues moments later as Los Che made it 2-1.
Escobar was far more emphatic with his finish from an angle off the right wing, rifling the ball past Ziger and edging Valencia closer to their first Youth League victory of the season.
With Ajax ahead in the other group game, Chelsea needed a goal in the final 15 minutes to keep alive their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage. Myers threw on George Nunn, another attacker, but the best chance of snatching a draw fell to Broja in the final five minutes. However, the Albanian Under-21 international got underneath his drive from the edge of the box and with that went any lingering hopes of a comeback.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Karlo Ziger; Tariq Lamptey, Marc Guehi (c), Clinton Mola, Ian Maatsen; Billy Gilmour, Lewis Bate (Myles Peart-Harris 69), Tino Anjorin; Henry Lawrence, Armando Broja, Thierno Ballo (George Nunn 79)Unused subs Nicolas Tie, Dynel Simeu, Marcel Lewis, Sam McClelland, Xavier SimonsScorer Lawrence 26Valencia (4-4-2) Carlos Perez Sanchez; Xavi Estacio, Adria Bosch Sanchis, Joseda, Jesus Vazquez (David Ruiz Montero 68); Hugo Gonzalez Sotos (Gaston Kappes 68), Yunus Musah (Jose Lechon 90+2), Koba Koindredi, Antonio Garcia Navas (Ignacio Garre 61); Pablo Gozalbez (c) (Noha Ndombasi Nlandu 90+2), Jordi EscobarUnused subs Juan Aucejo, Jairo SierraScorers Joseda 20; Escobar 76Booked GozalbezReferee Jonathan Lardot from Belgium