Chelsea’s Under-21s endured a frustrating evening at Aldershot’s EBB Stadium on Friday night as they went down to a 3-0 Premier League Under-21 International Cup defeat at the hands of Benfica.
Goals from Diogo Goncalves, Joao Carvalho and Ruben Dias were sufficient to claim victory against an experimental Blues side featuring a number of players who, for one reason or another, haven’t had as much football as they would have liked this season.
Charlie Colkett made his first start since suffering an ankle knock in pre-season whilst Kevin Wright, Josimar Quintero and Fikayo Tomori all looked to make up for lost time but, against a team that plays men’s football every week in the Portuguese Second Division, they were rather outmatched at times.
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The first half was a generally forgettable affair with neither side managing to take control of proceedings and, instead, play ticked back and forth with a lack of conviction at either end. There were close moments, of course, but neither Sancidino Silva nor Josi Quintero could quite find the target whilst efforts from Reece Mitchell and Carvalho weren’t enough to beat the respective goalkeepers; Brad Collins making a fine save to deny the latter.
Benfica lost captain Joao Nunes to injury shortly before the interval but were buoyed by a goal that gave them the lead before retiring to their dressing room. A cross from the left wasn’t deal with by the Blues defenders and the ensuing scramble led to Goncalves turning home from a yard out. It rather captured the mood of the evening; the highlight of the contest up to that point was a scrappy goal, the product of a mistake rather than the culmination of quality approach play.
Things picked up a little upon the resumption of play but it was Benfica who looked the better and indeed more dangerous side. They asserted themselves with the confidence of having earned the lead and looked robust in defence whilst carrying an attacking threat. With Chelsea short on ideas, the visitors doubled their advantage on the hour mark; Goncalves this time turning provider with a lovely ball across the face of goal for Carvalho to tap in at the far post.
It took them just five more minutes to put the result beyond doubt. The Águias picked their way through a half-hearted home back line and although Collins got something on Dias’ shot, the ball bounced favourably for the first-half substitute and bounced over the line to make it 3-0. It was perhaps a harsh scoreline at this point but there could be little doubt that the Portuguese were the better and more accomplished side.
Chelsea’s, by contrast, became younger and more experienced when Colkett, Abraham and Quintero were replaced by Kyle Scott, Isaac Christie-Davies and Ruben Sammut; Christie-Davies making his first competitive appearance at this level. Despite the likes of Musonda and Fankaty Dabo continued to battle in search of an unlikely recovery, they never looked like scoring even a consolation.
Chelsea now must beat Celtic on December 4th if they are to qualify for the Quarter Finals of the competition, but with that particular fixture some way off at this stage, attentions now turn to a UEFA Youth League date in Kiev this Tuesday for some of the group, and a home match against Manchester City at Aldershot a week on Monday.
Chelsea: Collins, Dabo, Tomori, Conroy, Wright, Ali, Mitchell, Colkett (Scott 60), Abraham (Christie-Davies 68), Quintero (Sammut 72), Musonda (c)
Subs not Used: Thompson, Colley, Clarke-Salter, Suljic
Booked: Wright, Musonda
Benfica: Miguel Santos, Gilson Costa, Dawidowicz, Rebocho, Joao Nunes (c) (Ruben Dias 40), Alfaiate, Sancidino Silva (Ould-Chikh 72), Lystsov, Diogo Goncalves, Renato Sanches, Joao Carvalho (Pereira 78)
Subs not Used: Andre Ferreira, Sarkic, F.Ferreira, Ribeiro
Goals: Diogo Goncalves ’44, Joao Carvalho ’60, Ruben Dias ‘65
Booked: Lystsov, Pereira