Chelsea produced their finest academy performance of the season to reach the UEFA Youth League last sixteen as they beat Monaco 3-1 at Cobham on Tuesday evening.
It was a performance that was required against one of the toughest opponents they’ve faced this, or any, season, as the French side featured a number of expensively-assembled talents alongside their home-grown best in a team where several came with first-team experience. They were, however, no match for the Blues’ quality and cutting edge, as Charlie Brown scored a spectacular brace, and Conor Gallagher rounded things off late on with an emphatic free-kick.
Dan Davies was pitchside covering the match with his excellent photography so, as always, please take the time to check those out.
Last summer, Michael Emenalo’s shopping spree saw some €20m dropped on Lyon’s Willem Geubbels, €3m was enough to prize Jonathan Panzo away from Chelsea themselves, South African Lyle Foster cost €1.2m, and a healthy financial package took Robert Navarro from Barcelona to the principality. All four started in red and white here, as did Giulian Biancone, another with first-team minutes to his name already.
Enjoying a considerable size advantage too, they sought to impose themselves on proceedings from the start, and were guilty of several late tackles that only yielded one yellow card from referee Vilhjalmur Thorainsson. Slow to match their intensity, however, Chelsea were fortunate not to fall behind twice inside the opening quarter of an hour as Geubbels, who would be forced off through injury soon after, failed to take either gilt-edged chance when in behind the Blues’ back line.
They pressed with intelligence and purpose, they forced mistakes, and they kept Chelsea back in their own defensive third for long spells, yet they weren’t in complete control of the match. Chances became limited to glancing headers from Biancone that fell well wide of the target and, the longer the first half went on, the more comfortable Edwards’ side began to look.
Measuring themselves appropriately, acutely aware of the context of a single-legged knockout tie, they waited patiently for their moment. It almost came when Marc Guehi’s floated pass over the top found Brown, who was caught between shooting and crossing for Daishawn Redan and ultimately doing neither, but he wasn’t in such a charitable mood ten minutes later when he opened the scoring.
This time the chance owed everything to invention and technique, and it was led by Billy Gilmour. Growing in stature in a midfield where he and George McEachran were among giants, the Scotland Under-21 international strode forward imperiously, playing a neat one-two with Juan Castillo before releasing Brown with a smart reverse pass. This time he made no mistake, turning and finding the top corner with a finish just as good as the pass that had created it.
Now Monaco had to be more expansive in seeking an equaliser, in turn leaving the door a bit more open for Chelsea. Yanis Henen stretched well to parry Joseph Colley’s header away early in the second half, and was then on hand to make a crucial intervention to keep Redan out after Panzo had struggled to deal with a routine long ball over his head.
The second goal would be decisive, as much of a cliché as that may be, and when Brown scored his second ten minutes after the restart, it looked a long way back for Monaco. Lashing in from almost thirty yards out, it was his 11th goal in five UEFA Youth League matches this term, making him by far and away the competition’s leading scorer, and moving him up the list of all-time marksmen in tournament history into second place, one behind Madrid duo Borja Mayoral (Real) and Roberto Nunez (Atlético).
Chelsea could sit back and manage the game from there, allowing Monaco to cycle the ball around in midfield while preventing any meaningful penetration into the penalty area. Always a threat on the break – when allowed to among 19 Monaco fouls – they were close to putting it beyond any doubt when McEachran curled just over fifteen minutes from time, but Gallagher did make sure in their next attack, powering a free kick high into the top corner from the edge of the area.
There was enough time left for Kephren Thuram-Ulien to stake a claim for the goal of the match in a contest rich in contenders when he unleashed an unstoppable long-range piledriver of his own, crashing into the top corner with Jamie Cumming rooted to his spot, but it was far too little too late. Despite several impressive individual performances, they were beaten by the better team, who were incisive when it counted, and produced a professional and hard-working display in front of a star-studded guest list that included Eden Hazard, John Terry, Petr Cech, Steve Holland and several other first-team players.
They take their place in Friday’s draw for the last sixteen, as the road to Nyon begins to really take shape. An open draw without country protection, Chelsea will face one of Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Porto, Ajax, Hoffenheim, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Hertha BSC, Dinamo Zagreb, Tottenhan Hotspur, and the winners of the remaining playoff ties Midtjylland vs Roma, Dynamo Kyiv vs Juventus, Sigma Olomouc vs Lyon, Montpellier vs Benfica.
Chelsea: Cumming, Lamptey (Lawrence 83), Colley ©, Guehi, Maatsen, McEachran, Gallagher, Gilmour, Redan, Brown, Castillo
Subs not Used: Ziger, Mola, McClelland, Lavinier, Nunn, Russell
Goals: Brown ’41, ’55, Gallagher ‘77
Monaco: Henin, Biancone, Silva ©, Matsima, Panzo, Thuram-Ulien, Zerkane (Torres 89), Millot, Foster, Navarro (Duah-Adusei 79), Geubbels (Antognelli 22)
Subs not Used: El Maach, Yaffa, Abonnel
Goal: Thuram-Ulien ‘85
Booked: Silva, Thuram-Ulien, Foster