Chelsea became the first team to book their place in the Semi Finals of the NextGen Series after an emphatic 4-1 victory over Juventus.
A spectacular first half display left Dermot Drummy’s boys firmly in control of the tie to the tune of goals from Lewis Baker and Alex Kiwomya and whilst the Bianconeri fared much better later in the game and reduced the lead through Daniele Rugani’s header, late goals from Islam Feruz and Baker again saw Chelsea home.
Drummy shuffled the pack once more in this competition, and without the services of Barcelona beaters George Saville, Todd Kane and Connor Hunte, he brought in Nathan Aké, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Kevin Wright. Jamal Blackman was preferred in goal to Mitchell Beeney.
Juventus came into the last eight clash as the tournament’s only unbeaten team and had an early sight of goal when Eric Lanini flashed a shot wide of the target but it would prove to be a scant moment of positivity for the Old Lady in a first half bossed by the hosts.
Chelsea moved the ball purposefully and played the game on their terms, dictating the tempo and direction of affairs. They were quickly rewarded with an opening goal after ten minutes and it came courtesy of a sensational long-range strike by Baker.
The Blues’ captain shifted his weight enough to fashion a yard of space whilst under the attentions of two Juve players before unleashing an unstoppable effort which found the top corner.
Never a team to rest on their laurels, Chelsea doubled the advantage moments later. A rapid counter attack was launched by Andreas Christensen and advanced by Feruz before being finished impeccably by Kiwomya.
Juve didn’t looked shell-shocked so much as they appeared to have forgotten to turn up, but they were being absolutely dominated in all departments on a Griffin Park playing surface which Chelsea were making light work of despite its obvious shortcomings.
The Blues might have extended the advantage even further as the first half wore on as Aké, Loftus-Cheek, Feruz and Adam Nditi all went close. Theirs was a performance full of swagger and flair, and two goals was the least they deserved.
Juventus made a double substitution after half an hour in a bid to kick-start their performance but when Blackman was finally asked to make a save it was to prevent Aké turning a fiercely struck shot into his own goal. The big stopper did ao excellently before holding a later effort by Ceria to maintain a first half shutout.
To their credit and perhaps expectedly, Juve were a much tougher outfit after the interval. They pressed and harangued those in blue with more zeal and were the better side for long spells.
Schemer Stefano Beltrame was their chief protagonist and forced Blackman into an excellent reflex save with his right foot when well placed.
It was, however, a rare save for the Chelsea number one as the back four regularly snuffed out opposition advances. There was less by way of attacking impetus at the other end compared to the first half and regular substitutions from both coaches ensured fresh legs across the park.
Chelsea’s came in midfield and in the form of John Swift and Charlie Colkett but with just under twenty minutes left, the game took a most interesting twist. Beltrame whipped in a devilish free kick and the big defender Rugani glanced the ball home to put his side right in contention.
Faced with adversity for the first true time all afternoon, Chelsea could easily have wilted under the tension but whilst there were a few nerves, their resolute nature once again came to the fore and with ten minutes renaming they stepped up once again and scored a decisive third goal.
Colkett’s excellent touch in midfield sprang Kiwomya down the right and the scorer of the second goal played the perfect pass across the area to give Feruz a tap-in. The Scottish forward had worked hard for little reward but stuck to his task and got what he deserved.
Blackman was forced into a quick double save in response before Baker put the cherry on the cake four minutes from time by adding a lovely fourth with a close range volley following a sumptuous chipped pass by Colkett. Juventus might feel the scoreline a harsh one but on the balance of play it was about right.
Their reward is a trip to Lake Como on Easter Weekend for a Semi Final and potential Final. Having gone unbeaten against Ajax, Barcelona and now Juventus, the young Blues will fear nobody as they seek to assert themselves as Europe’s elite. On this display, they have as strong a case as anyone.
Chelsea: Blackman, Christensen, Davey, Aké, Wright, Baker (c), Loftus-Cheek (Swift 60), Boga (Colkett 75), Nditi, Kiwomya, Feruz
Goals: Baker x2, Kiwomya, Feruz