Chelsea are Under-19 Champions of Europe. The Blues became the first English team to win the UEFA Youth League after beating Shakhtar Donetsk 3-2 in Nyon, Switzerland, on Monday afternoon, with a brace from captain Izzy Brown leading the way and yet another Dominic Solanke effort sandwiched in between, rendering a late first-half own goal by Andreas Christensen and a late Viktor Kovalenki goal as little more than afterthoughts on yet another memorable day for the Chelsea Football Club Academy.
Following an impressive 4-0 dismantling of Roma in Friday’s Semi Final, coach Adi Viveash went with the same starting eleven; one which was by far the strongest available selection. It meant Brad Collins once again started behind a back four of Ola Aina, Christensen, Jake Clarke-Salter and Jay Dasilva, with a midfield of Charlie Colkett, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Charly Musonda joining a front three of Brown, Jeremie Boga and Solanke.
It had taken the Blues some time to make a breakthrough against their Italian opposition but here, they needed just seven minutes to break the deadlock. Musonda’s jinking run found Solanke towards the left of a central position, and he in turn squared the ball across the face of goal for captain Brown to slam in just 24 hours after appearing on the first team substitutes’ bench away to Queens Park Rangers.
Musonda in particular was enjoying a very lively start to proceedings and his quick reaction to an errant Shakhtar throw saw him hand over to Boga, who got a shot away but goalkeeper Oleh Kudryk made the save. The Belgian himself then had a try himself as a long ball forward was only partially cleared and sat up nicely for him, but his volley was wayward and high over the crossbar.
Shakhtar’s response to going behind had been good, with Arendaruk in particular looking lively down their right hand side. His quick exchanges with Andriy Boryachuk promised much but lacked a cutting edge with scarce few team-mates willing to join in on attacking situations. With plenty of possession to their credit, they looked good for an equaliser but were lacking a cutting edge.
Chelsea, on the other hand, were quick to pounce on any mistakes given to them. Solanke colleted a loose ball before exploding past two orange-and-black shirts only to drill his shot just over the bar, and when Musonda won a free kick thirty yards from goal, Boga too saw his effort sail over the target.
Shakhtar’s equaliser arrived eight minutes before half time and whilst it owed much to fortune, it was also deserved on the balance of play. A rapid counter attack was led by dangerman Arendaruk, who delivered a perfect cross destined for Boryachuk only to be turned past Collins by Christensen as the Dane tried to intervene.
If anything, it woke Chelsea from a temporary slumber and the Blues finished the first half on the front foot. Loftus-Cheek’s low cutback eluded Solanke but picked out Boga, who was rather wasteful with his finish, and Musonda then reacted quickest to Aina’s deflected cross but couldn’t quite poke the ball towards the target.
Musonda did create by far and away the best chance of the half at the death though, delivering a similarly devilish ball to Arendaruk’s for the equaliser at the other end, but despite connecting with it just yards from goal, Solanke was somehow unable to restore the Chelsea lead.
They had sealed their berth in this showpiece occasion by virtue of a sensational second half start on Friday, and they were up to their old tricks again inside two minutes of the restart. Loftus-Cheek fed Boga wide on the left, he went outside two men and stood up a cross for Solanke to head home his 12th goal of the competition and seal a fine personal record of having scored in every single round.
Brown followed that with a sharp spin and shot from the edge of the box well gathered by Kudryk, and whilst Sahutkin threatened with a header at the other end, Chelsea now couldn’t be stopped. Boga showed great patience to bide his time in possession before picking out Brown open at the far post, and he opened his body before guiding a lovely low effort into the bottom corner to make it 3-1.
Shakhtar offered little by way of resistance as Musonda and Boga then turned on the skills; the former dazzling his way past a host of defenders before just failing to pick out Colkett, whilst the latter held onto the ball under some duress, almost toying with his opposition.
As the game ticked into the final twenty minutes, Solanke’s quick thinking and powerful drive carved out a chance only for the shot to elude the far corner, just before Boga’s own personal party came to a premature end as he hobbled off to be replaced by Kasey Palmer. Kovalenko, such a game changer for Shakhtar in their Semi Final against Anderlecht, came on at the same time and immediately laid on a chance for Vasil Shtander to make the game interesting, but he was unable to take the gift on offer to him.
If that was a sitter, Solanke’s own miss minutes later was perhaps worse. Brown’s determination got him to the byline with Shakhtar defenders strewn in his wake, and although he gifted the 34-goal front man a near-gimme, the ball was clipped over from six yards out.
Not that it remotely mattered though, as Chelsea saw out the final ten minutes with the professionalism and control that has been a hallmark of their play throughout the run to glory. They did suffer a hiccup deep into stoppage time when Kovalenko escaped the attentions of Christensen to race away and finish superbly, but it was the last kick of the game and had arrived way too late to bear an impact on the outcome.
Chelsea have been by far and away the most dominant team in the competition and are thoroughly deserved Under-19 Champions of Europe.
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Christensen, Clarke-Salter, Dasilva, Colkett, Brown (c), Loftus-Cheek, Solanke, Musonda (Abraham 84), Boga (Palmer)
Subs not Used: Tomori, Thompson, Scott, Sammut, Sterling
Goals: Brown ‘7, ’54, Solanke ‘47
Shakhtar Donetsk: Kudryk, Kyryukhantsev, Sahutkin, Matviyenko, Vachiberadze, Pikhalonok, Shtander (Kovalenko 70), Hladchenko, Arendaruk (Merkushov 78), Boryachuk, Zubkov
Subs not Used: Yefanov, Shevchenko, Fursov, Senytskyy, Hlahola
Goals: Christensen ’37 og, Kovalenko ‘90
Booked: Vachiberadze, Kovalenko