There will be tougher challenges ahead for sure but, for the time being, Chelsea have dealt with their UEFA Youth League schedule with the minimum of fuss.
In all honesty they have no business being involved in the Domestic Champions path of the competition, yet that was the hand they were dealt by Antonio Conte’s disappointing 2017-18 first-team squad, and they’ve handled their business accordingly.
Certainly, they’ve faced inferior opposition in the Group Stage Champions path in previous seasons, but in Molde and Elfsborg they’ve met two teams quite out of their depth by comparison so far this term.
Molde were brushed aside 14-1 on aggregate, including a 10-1 mauling at Cobham, and today’s 6-0 win over Elfsborg secured a 9-0 scoreline over the course of the two legs. A 3-0 win in Borås at the start of the month was enough in itself, and so two more goals from Charlie Brown (taking him to nine, more than another player in the tournament) plus one each for Daishawn Redan, Juan Castillo, George McEachran and Tariq Uwakwe made this second leg resemble little more than a training session at times.
The Swedes, to their credit, put up more of a fight than Molde did, and looked to challenge their illustrious hosts in the early going with a succession of long balls – aided by the strong winds at a blustery Cobham – in over the top. They earned a number of set pieces in doing so, but couldn’t make anything of them.
The simple but considerable gulf in quality quickly began to show though. Leaving Brown, who had notched a brace in the first meeting, entirely unmarked to collect Uwakwe’s pass for 1-0 was a mistake you cannot make at this level, nor can you allow Redan space to run onto, as he did when he rounded goalkeeper Rönning before tucking home for a second.
The Dutchman turned provider for the third, giving Brown a 15th of the season in all competitions, and compatriot Castillo added a fourth with an emphatic strike from a very tight angle that will have left the Elfsborg stopper wondering how he conceded. And that was all before half time.
The second half eventually descended into the inevitable slog towards seeing out the clock, but not before McEachran left his mark. His goal made it 5-0 with perfect technique to clip home from the edge of the area, before he teamed up with Uwakwe for the best of the bunch, a scintillating back and forth down the right and into the middle that saw the latter retain remarkable composure one on one with Rönning for a most delightful finish.
A slew of substitutions – teams can now make up to five in a maximum of three stoppages – took all momentum out of proceedings, with Brown and Faustino Anjorin (who signed his maiden professional contract this week) close but not close enough to adding to the team’s 23 goals in four matches.
Safely into the hat for next month’s playoff draw, Joe Edwards’ boys will face one of their eight Group Stage runners-up in a single-leg tie in February, for which they will have home advantage. From there, the winner progresses to the last sixteen, and the road to Nyon begins again.
Chelsea: Askew, Lamptey (Lavinier), Colley (c), Wakely, Maatsen, McEachran (Russell), Uwakwe, Anjorin, Brown (Lewis), Redan (Nunn), Castillo (Mola)
Sub not Used: Žiger
Goals: Brown 15, 41, Redan 21, Castillo 45, McEachran 47, Uwakwe 58
Booked: Uwakwe, Nunn
Elfsborg: Rönning, Stålheden (Broman), Vedin, Sandberg Hesselgren, Iljazi (Holmén), Sawsami, Ceganjac (Viktorsson), Thorsson, Liimatainen (Cooper Love), Söderberg, Schyberg
Sub not Used: Jonsson