Chelsea qualified for the Quarter Finals of the NextGen Series after recording a hard-fought 2-0 win away to Barcelona on Wednesday evening.
A first-half strike from Islam Feruz gave the Blues a lead they clung onto for dear life during a second half played with ten men after Connor Hunte’s dismissal, but like their senior counterparts have done before, they held on with their backs up against the wall and Jeremie Boga capped the win in Fernando Torres-like style in stoppage time.
With everyone doubtless clamouring for a place in the starting eleven for such a prestigious match, manager Dermot Drummy had some tough decisions to make and opted to make three changes from the team Adi Viveash picked to play Barnsley last week in the FA Youth Cup.
Todd Kane returned to the fold after recent loan spells at Preston North End and Blackburn Rovers and replaced Nathan Aké, who remained in England with Rafael Benitez’ first team squad. Andreas Christensen moved inside to partner Alex Davey at centre-back, whilst George Saville returned as captain in place of Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Top scorer Feruz, who had missed the Barnsley tie injured, was fit to start with Reece Mitchell dropping to the bench. Barcelona, however, were without their own leading marksman Sandro Ramirez, and he was replaced by Cristian Herrera. They were, however, able to include the highly-rated central midfielder Sergi Samper.
The visitors, wearing their change strip of all white, started in tenacious and lively fashion and looked up for the challenge on every front. Hunte was issued with an early yellow card by an over-eager referee for stepping in front of a quickly taken free kick, but he and Adam Nditi behind him on the left were in for a challenge against the athletic pair on Barcelona’s right; Ekpolo Godswill and Adama Traore.
Adama in particular looked dangerous in the opening stages but Barcelona’s best moments typically came as a result of Chelsea’s eagerness to play their way out from the back rather than punt it upfield. Paired with a slight nervousness brought upon by the stage on which they were playing, some mistakes crept into their play and it took a goal-line clearance from Kane to keep out Nando Quesada’s powerful strike.
Lewis Baker tried his luck from long range at the other end but Cameroonian goalkeeper Joseph Ondoa wasn’t forced into a save until Kiwomya shot straight at him midway through the first half. By that point, however, Mitchell Beeney had been extended to the full extent of his frame to keep out Alain Ebwelle’s fine strike, and whilst he let the rebound from Adama sneak through his legs, Davey was on hand to rescue him with another last-ditch hack away.
As they began to settle down, though, and spurred on by the tenacity of captain Saville in the middle of the park, the Blues (in white) began to look more adventurous and capable. Kane slammed a shot straight at Ondoa whilst Kiwomya caused problems for left-back Lucas with regularity down the right.
With less than five minutes remaining before the half time interval, the opening goal arrived. It came courtesy of an excellent run and slide-rule pass from Jeremie Boga, the youngest player on the pitch. His perfectly weighted ball released Kane, who squared for Feruz to tap the ball into the unguarded net.
Whilst they went into the changing rooms obviously delighted with their 45 minutes work, their task became considerably harder two minutes after the restart as Hunte careered into Godswill well after the ball had gone and picked up a second yellow card and an early bath. It was a needless and reckless bit of play from the Under-16, but one he will certainly learn from.
The hosts evidently smelt blood with their new-found extra man and sought to make immediate gains from the situation. Adama found space courtesy of a mistake from Nditi but dragged his shot woefully wide, whilst Calvet headed over from a corner. Chelsea were reduced to looking to play on the break but in the dynamic Boga they had the perfect player in their ranks to do just that, and he continued to cause no end of problems.
Barcelona introduced fresh attacking legs in Babunski and Sanabria for the ineffective Calvet and Herrera and then Enguene for Quesada but were still largely reduced to long range efforts. Beeney was barely worked into a sweat though, and whilst Adama still proved highly effective in the build-up down the right, his end product was consistently lacking.
The game was, as one would expect, being played entirely in Chelsea’s half with Drummy’s boys defending in two banks of four, leaving Feruz grazing alone up top for whatever scraps of possession he could find. The hosts used their last substitution allocation to introduce the dangerous Argentinian Maxi Rolon for the frustrated Ebwelle, but as the clock ticked past 70 Chelsea had yet to introduce new faces of their own.
They eventually did, giving Feruz’s legs a break and bringing the talented Reece Mitchell into the fray to serve the same role as the goalscorer. Nditi’s challenge on Traore caused a few hearts to jump into mouths as the winger went down in the box, but no penalty was given and Chelsea got some brief respite moments later as Baker did well down the right to earn a corner.
A rare good cross from Adama then picked out the substitute Babunski some twelve yards out but the ball was behind the Macedonian and his spectacular overhead kick saw the ball slice off into the empty stands behind the goal. It was indicative of the lack of real chances the Blaugrana had been able to eke out and even when they were finally able to work Beeney, it came from long range. Samper’s deft chip was excellent, but so was the save.
Blocks continued to rain in any time the ball got close to the Chelsea penalty area as they defended deep and with the same sort of commitment exhibited by the first team so often in the same city many times before. Godswill had a rare chance from close range after a Beeney parry but Christensen was on hand to intervene once more.
In the final five minutes the ante was upped even further and Sanabria asked questions of the Blues’ goalkeeper which were more than answered with another commanding stop from inside the six yard box. There had been one or two nervous moments for Beeney but by and large he had put in an excellent display.
Isak Ssewankambo replaced the hard working Kiwomya for the final moments to add a more physical presence to the defensive effort, and against all odds the game was finally put to bed in the first minute of stoppage time when the outstanding Boga found time and space on the right after good work by Saville and Baker to slam a shot past Ondoa to make it 2-0 and seal Chelsea’s place in the last eight.
Barcelona: Ondoa, Godswill, Robert, Bagnack, Lucas, Samper, Quesada (c) (Sanabria), Calvet (Babunski), Ebwelle (Rolón), Adama, Herrera (Enguene)
Subs not Used: Riera, Tienda, Quintilla
Chelsea: Beeney, Kane, Davey, Christensen, Nditi, Saville (c), Baker, Boga, Kiwomya (Ssewankambo), Hunte, Feruz (Mitchell)
Subs not Used: Killip, Loftus-Cheek, T.Musonda, Wright, Conroy
Goals: Feruz 42, Boga 90
Booked: Samper, Godswill (Barcelona), Kane, Hunte, Baker (Chelsea)
Sent off: Hunte (Chelsea)