Chelsea’s debut in the NextGenSeries didn’t quite go according to plan as although they dominated large parts of their Group C opener against CSKA Moscow, they went down by the odd goal in three.
Patrick Bamford’s early goal had promised much but after a quickfire double salvo from the visitors, the young Blues faced a hard task to get themselves back into the game, and despite recording a number of attempts on target, they ended up on the wrong side of a 2-1 scoreline.
As expected, Dermot Drummy’s team featured a number of last season’s FA Youth Cup winners alongside the allowed three overage players in Bamford, Thorgan Hazard and Todd Kane. This meant there was no room for goalkeeper Jamal Blackman, so first-year scholar Mitchell Beeney lined up between the sticks.
Most of the squad have spent the summer together under Drummy in the Under-21 ranks and their familiarity served them well in the opening stages. They controlled the early going and opened the scoring with less than a quarter of an hour on the clock.
Captain Kane did well down the right before cutting the ball across the face of goal for Bamford to convert with his usual confidence and aplomb.
The movement of Piazon and Hazard up front combined with Lewis Baker’s typically busy play in midfield had the Blues well on top, but they spurned opportunities to add to their lead and were made to play when CSKA got themselves going closer to the break.
The equaliser came on the half-hour mark when skipper Gela Zaseev found the back of the net from just inside the box. It rattled the hosts and within five minutes they found themselves facing a deficit as the impressive Nikolay Dergachev capped a strong 45 minutes by jumping higher than Adam Nditi and powering a header past Beeney.
But for some wayward finishing, CSKA may have been even further away at the break, but Piazon and Nathan Aké each went close to putting Chelsea back on terms to lift the mood slightly as the teams retreated back into the dressing rooms.
In a bid to inject extra attacking impetus, Drummy introduced schoolboy attacking midfielder Jeremie Boga in place of John Swift, and his young charges came out all guns blazing. Baker’s fierce drive across the face of goal barely eluded Bamford in the middle, whilst Piazon fired inches over shortly afterwards.
Islam Feruz made his return from six weeks out injured just before the hour, with Thorgan Hazard making way. The Belgian, who was linked with a loan move to Standard Liege earlier in the day, started well but faded, and Feruz’s arrival saw another quick and dynamic forward involved in the hunt for a second goal.
Camped in CSKA’s half, one got the impression that it just wasn’t going to be Chelsea’s evening; goalkeeper Revyakin superbly kept out a Piazon header following good work by Boga out wide, before surpassing himself with a close-range stop from substitute Feruz.
Despite being the youngest player on the pitch, Boga was proving to be the architect of the hosts’ best play and he was pulling the strings once again as the clock ticked into the final ten minutes, but Bamford couldn’t take advantage of his through ball and shot straight at Revyakin.
Try as they might though, the home team just couldn’t find a way through. Piazon was kept at bay for the umpteenth time and whilst there was a rebound, it was at an unfavourable angle and Feruz couldn’t steer it the right side of the post.
A final attempt from Boga skidded wide of the post but CSKA held on to take three points back to Russia with them and take an early lead in Group C. The result will be disappointing for the Blues, but the experience will serve them well and they remain very much a force in the competition.
Chelsea: Beeney, Kane (c), Aké, Davey (Houghton 75), Nditi (Wright 60), Chalobah, Swift (Boga 45), Baker, T.Hazard (Feruz 55), Piazon, Bamford
Subs not Used: Killip, Houghton