Chelsea will take their place in Monday’s UEFA Youth League Final after a nerve-wracking Semi Final against FC Porto at Nyon’s Stade Colovray was decided on penalties.
The Blues, who led through Daishawn Redan’s first-half goal, found themselves starting at elimination with ten minutes remaining, as substitute Joao Mario added to Diogo Quierós’ equaliser to give the Portuguese the ascendancy. Josh Grant produced a captain’s goal to equalise at the death, however, and the Blues prevailed 5-4 in the ensuing shootout with Jamie Cumming the three-save hero in sudden death.
Joe Edwards was without the injured Ethan Ampadu and the suspended Jacob Maddox for this last four clash; the former having suffered a broken ankle against Real Madrid in the Quarter Finals, whilst the latter was serving a suspension for a red card in the same match. Conor Gallagher and Callum Hudson-Odoi were drafted in as replacements, with Trevoh Chalobah dropping back into his more recognised position at centre-back in Ampadu’s absence.
Chelsea held a perfect record at the sun-kissed stadium on the shores of Lake Geneva, having won all four matches played there over the course of their back-to-back title winning campaigns in 2015 and 2016, but early signs here were that they weren’t about to have everything their way. Porto’s reputation as a team with tremendous defensive organisation was apparent from the off, and they carried a tangible attacking threat too.
The Portuguese side had the first shot on goal when Romário Baró stroked a gentle long-range try straight at Cumming, but the first half was a very cautious and cagey affair until a mistake by Porto goalkeeper Diogo Costa allowed Redan to open the scoring after half an hour. Luke McCormick’s advances saw him get off a good but saveable shot from the edge of the area, but Costa was unable to secure the ball, and Redan pounced for his fourth goal in the competition this season.
That lead didn’t last until half time though; Diogo Quierós climbed highest to loop home a fine headed equaliser that was fully deserved on the balance of play, although Costa was also able to atone for his earlier mistake by pulling off a tremendous reaction save to deny Dujon Sterling from point-blank range to ensure parity remained at the interval.
As the two teams exchanged patient spells of possession that went unrewarded through diligent defending, it was very much a case of ‘who blinks first?’ as the tension began to rise. McCormick and Redan should have done better with half-chances, whilst Hudson-Odoi – a peripheral figure for much of the game – was guilty of spurning a glorious opening after being played in by Charlie Brown, who had replaced Redan only moments earlier.
The final quarter of the contest became stretched and chances started to rain in at both ends. Gallagher’s fizzer was dealt with by Costa with the minimum of fuss whilst Diogo Bessa was denied by a deflection off Grant when it appeared he was destined to give Porto the lead from left of centre. Diogo Leite and Santiago Irala each turned up further openings whilst Harvey St Clair’s deflected strike hit the foot of the post and Grant headed over.
A goal seemed inevitable, and it came Porto’s way ten minutes from time. A swift break found substitute Joao Mario on the right, and although Baró’s shot was brilliantly saved by Cumming, Mario himself was on hand to place the rebound beyond the despairing Sterling to leave Chelsea on the verge of an exit from the Youth League for the first time since 2014.
It called for big characters to step up. Tariq Lamptey was immediately introduced in a right-sided role, pushing Chalobah – who had been ruled out of the Final by a first-half booking – into midfield, and Chelsea summoned their energies for one last push. Castillo’s 86th minute corner swirled high above the Porto penalty spot, where Chalobah kept things alive with a towering header, and Grant reacted first to guide a left-footed finish into the bottom corner whilst falling to ground himself.
It would take penalties to separate the two sides, and it would take plenty of them to do so. St Clair and Pedro Estrela got the ball rolling before Brown’s tame effort was easily saved by Costa. Cumming responded by parrying Leite’s weak try, and the four spot kicks were successful. Reece James couldn’t convert the fifth and final penalty though, as Costa reached down low to his right to make a great stop, yet Cumming was there again to correctly read Rui Pires’ shot to keep Chelsea’s hopes alive.
Chalobah and Castillo both found the back of the net either side of Quierós’ excellent reply, but Bessa became Cumming’s third victim, the young goalkeeper throwing himself to his left to spark scenes of celebration and relief combined.
Their reward is a place in Monday’s showpiece finale against Manchester City or Barcelona. It promises to be a belter of a match, one in which the Blues will have to play significantly better than they did here if they are to bring the Lennart Johansson Trophy home with them again.
Chelsea: Cumming, James, Sterling, Chalobah, Grant ©, Gallagher (Lamptey 81), St Clair, McCormick, Redan (Brown 69), Hudson-Odoi, Castillo
Subs not Used: Guehi, Bulka, McEachran, Colley, Uwakwe
Goals: Redan ’29, Grant ‘86
Booked: Chalobah, Gallagher
FC Porto: Diogo Costa, Diogo Quierós, Diogo Leite, Justiniano, Lamba, Rui Pires, Irala (Maleck 9), Cassamá © (Estrela 65), Baró, Diogo Bessa, Queta (Joao Mario 80)
Subs not Used: Lameira, Silva, Fidelis, Tiago Lopes
Goals: Diogo Quierós 40, Joao Mario ‘80
Booked: Diogo Quierós