A year ago this week, Chelsea’s Development Squad suffered a 2-1 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur in a performance that did not augur well ahead of preparations for their trip to Switzerland for the UEFA Youth League Finals weekend.
Then, having scraped past FC Porto on penalties and after an 87th-minute equaliser, they were taken apart by Barcelona in the Final, and were left to rue their poor form in the build-up to the season’s showpiece occasion. Fast-forward back to the current day, and a similarly disappointing reverse against another North London outfit left them with plenty of work to do ahead of this year’s trip, as Freddie Ljungberg’s Arsenal were comfortable 3-1 winners at Stamford Bridge.
Dan Davies was pitchside and covered the action with his expert lens as always. Check out his work!
The Gunners were physically bigger, technically sharper, and tactically superior; such was the ease with which they won, they were able to cruise through the second half in second gear. Two well-taken goals by Eddie Nketiah – the second a superb solo effort – and one just before half time from the experienced Carl Jenkinson saw the visitors establish a lead they were never going to give up, and although Chelsea were better after the break, Daishawn Redan’s late consolation was just that.
Both teams played with three at the back, though Arsenal were far more varied further forward, and used unconvential positioning for Xavier Amaechi and Bukayo Saka to full effect. Two of their three goals had a slight suspicion of offside about them, but they deserved their win anyway, and will be the best of the rest in the Premier League 2 after Everton were crowned champions in beating second-placed Brighton in a clash of the league’s two best teams all season.
Edwards’ side weren’t particularly bad but they weren’t able to lay a strong glove on their opponents. Maatsen was up against it facing a top flight striker in waiting in Nketiah, but never shirked a challenge, and was helped by strong performances from fellow centre-backs Joseph Colley and Marc Guehi. Neither Juan Castillo nor Tariq Lamptey really got into the game out side and, although George McEachran moved around the midfield well looking to make something happen, he found a crowded group ahead of him as Conor Gallagher, Billy Gilmour and Luke McCormick all regularly came too deep and left Charlie Brown isolated in attack.
McCormick got further forward later in the game and missed a pair of decent chances to restore some life to the party, but it was the introduction of Tariq Uwakwe that finally sparked Chelsea into life. Skilful and direct, he forced Arthur Okonkwo into his first notable save of the night in the 74th minute, and there was more to come. Gallagher rattled the outside of the post sixty seconds later and, although it was too little too late, Uwakwe’s nutmeg on former academy team-mate Zech Medley led to a shot saved and rebound scored by fellow replacement Redan seven minutes from time.
With one or two tweaks, this was the team most likely to start against Barcelona in this year’s Youth League Semi Final a week on Friday. On this evidence, the Catalunyan giants will fancy their chances, but this Arsenal team – a team that didn’t feature in this year’s edition of the competition – are a far stronger team themselves by comparison. Chelsea have everything in their locker to go to Nyon and blow their opposition away. They just need to recapture their confidence and form in time to make amends for last year, and not allow history to repeat itself.
Chelsea: Ziger, Lamptey, Colley, Guehi, Maatsen, McEachran, Gallagher, Gilmour (Uwakwe 69), Brown (Redan 56), McCormick ©, Castillo
Subs not Used: Cumming, Nartey, Taylor-Crossdale
Goal: Redan ‘83
Arsenal: Okonkwo, Jenkinson (Bramall 62), Osei-Tutu, Sheaf ©, Ballard, Medley, Amaechi (John-Jules 78), Gilmour, Nketiah, Burton, Saka (Thompson 83)
Subs not Used: Graczyk, Omole
Goals: Nketiah ‘8, ’29, Jenkinson ‘44
Booked: Ballard, Medley