Chelsea secured a Quarter Final berth in the UEFA Youth League for the second consecutive season after beating Zenit St Petersburg 3-1 at Aldershot on Wednesday night.
The Blues fell behind early on to a well taken free kick but were able to find their stride in short order and drew level courtesy of Dominic Solanke’s 28th goal of the season. Kasey Palmer’s arrival from the substitutes bench at half time then proved vital as he scored Chelsea’s second goal in a dazzling performance, and the hosts eventually ran out comfortable victors as Charlie Colkett rounded things off from the penalty spot.
Make sure you check out Dan Davies’ always-excellent match gallery by clicking HERE.
Adi Viveash picked a formidable-looking line-up yet one that was without Ruben Loftus-Cheek due to first team responsibilities and that left Charly Musonda and the fit-again Jeremie Boga amongst the subs. Brad Collins had a back four of Ola Aina, Fikayo Tomori, Jake Clarke-Salter and Jay Dasilva ahead of him, whilst Andreas Christensen was released by Jose Mourinho to play in a midfield role alongside Colkett.
Alex Kiwomya and captain Izzy Brown flanked Solanke and Tammy Abraham, who rotated between shadow striker and centre forward duties in the opening stages. They were opening stages largely bossed by the Russians though, and they took an early lead when Ilya Kubyshkin – wearing the number 96 – clipped a lovely free kick past Collins from the edge of the box.
Undeterred, Chelsea saw off a fine spell by the galvanised visitors and began to search for an equaliser. It arrived after twenty minutes when a spot of penalty box pinball wound up with Solanke getting the final headed touch on the ball past Rudakov from close range.
Solanke looked very much up for the fight and had a glorious chance to add to his tally not long after when he embarked upon a seventy yard run following a Zenit corner. Having carried the ball from box to box, however, his eventual shot was a tired one and it trickled past the far post.
The game was quickly becoming Chelsea’s and they were denied a deserved lead close to the break when Christensen latched onto Clarke-Salter’s knock-down only to have his effort rebound away off a combination of man and goalpost. They would surely get their wish before long, although Collins did have to stay on his toes to make a smart save from Nazirov’s rasping drive just before the referee blew up to end the first half.
Enter Palmer. On instead of the quiet Kiwomya, he signalled his arrival with an audacious attempt to score from the halfway line and despite missing out by a few yards, he would not have long to wait. Five minutes into the second half he collected a short corner on the edge of the Zenit box, drew a man in with a dummied shot to create a yard of space, and then delivered a ferocious finish across the goalkeeper and into the far side of the goal for 2-1.
Things went downhill very quickly for a visibly tiring Zenit side thereafter. Solanke got the better of goalscorer Kubyshkin en route towards goal before behind bundled over and, with a clear goalscoring chance having been denied, number 96 received his marching orders.
Solanke continued to terrorise his opponents and proved decisive again as he won a penalty midway through the second period. Galloping clear on goal, he appeared to have taken too heavy a touch but went over under a challenge by goalkeeper Rudakov, who may have felt that he got a solid hand on the ball. Colkett beat him from the spot to end the match as a contest.
Chelsea might have gone on to win by a more handsome scoreline than perhaps they deserved such was their dominance up by two goals and an extra man, but Christensen saw an effort saved whilst a series of intricately built moves fell a touch or two short of perfection. Nonetheless, the Blues booked their spot in the last eight, when they will host Atlético Madrid for the right to travel to Nyon for the Semi Finals and a date with Roma or Manchester City.
Chelsea: Collins, Aina, Tomori, Clarke-Salter, Dasilva, Colkett, Kiwomya (Palmer 45), Christensen, Solanke, Abraham, Brown (c)
Subs not Used: Ugbo, Thompson, Musonda, Boga, Sammut, Suljic
Goals: Solanke, Palmer, Colkett
Zenit St Petersburg: Rudakov, Pronichev, Skopintsev, Nazimov, Gaslin, Zuev, Khodzhaniiazov, Maykov, Osipov, Sheydaev, Kubyshkin
Subs: Vodyannikov, Yaroshenko, Ivanidi, Novopashin, Andreev, Obukhov, Dolgov
Sent Off: Kubyshkin