Chelsea booked their ticket back to Nyon in defence of their UEFA Youth League crown after they overcame Ajax 1-0 in an entertaining Quarter Final tie at Cobham on Tuesday afternoon.
It took just a single goal to separate the sides in a match full of drama and intrigue and it came courtesy of Kyle Scott, who applied a smart finish to a neat passage of play just before half time.
As always, Dan Davies’ match gallery is the best place to enjoy the action as it unfolded by clicking HERE.
Adi Viveash was only a suspended Ola Aina away from being able to field his strongest possible starting eleven and opted for the in-form Dujon Sterling ahead of Trevoh Chalobah at right-back without the experience of the absent Aina. Ajax included captain Abdelhak Nouri, former Chelsea trialist Vaclav Cerny, and Donny van de Beek, all of whom have first-team minutes to their names.
Both coaches anticipated the contest being a high-level tactical affair and the first half played out as such, with each team respecting the other and attempting to minimise mistakes from which they could be exploited. Ajax enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but found themselves facing the first effort on goal as Jake Clarke-Salter planted a header well wide of Indy Groothuizen’s goal.
Groothuizen was quickly called into action to push Kasey Palmer’s testing strike wide for a corner from which Clarke-Salter won another header, but both Fikayo Tomori and Tammy Abraham saw their goal-bound shots blocked by brave Ajax defending in their own goalmouth. The visitors, for their part, moved the ball around well in midfield but when they had a chance to capitalise, like when Charlie Colkett turned the ball over to the dangerous Van de Beek only for Tomori to clean up, they found a resilient Chelsea defence in their way.
It took a wonderful pass from Nouri to conjure their only real clear-cut opening of the first half; the skipper flicking a ball in behind for Cerny to collect, but he couldn’t find a way past Brad Collins at the near post. Nouri himself then bounced a shot well wide when he might have done better arriving onto Gino Dekker’s cross at the other end of the penalty area.
The Blues eked out a narrow advantage in the final minute of the half. Palmer’s quickly-taken free kick allowed him to play a one-two with Abraham before releasing Scott on goal, and the talented schemer had all day to collect his thoughts before steering expertly beyond Groothuizen with his left foot.
In such a finely-poised and even match-up the first goal was always likely to yield a reaction and Ajax, having had the half time break to compose themselves, threatened twice soon after play resumed. Cerny was central to both moves, first watching his long-range try take a deflection spinning just wide, and then just about failing to get proper purchase on his touch when trying to collect a deep ball in from the left.
Yet it was Chelsea who could have put the tie perhaps to bed on the hour mark when Palmer, central to the best of their play once again, found Maddox unmarked eight yards out and right in front of goal. He shaped to curl into the bottom corner only to find Groothuizen’s desperately-outstretched leg in his way to divert it around the post.
Palmer was wasteful having left his man behind in midfield and then asked more questions of Groothuizen with a teasing cross-shot from the right and, despite needing a goal, Ajax were just about holding on to their place in the competition. Damil Dankerlui tried his utmost to redress the balance with twenty minutes remaining as he embarked upon a powerful run into the box, but Jay Dasilva was there to cut him off at the last.
That forced him off through injury but, despite the tempo being upped considerably, the Blues were handling everything Ajax could throw at them whilst continuing to post a considerable threat going the other way. Abraham put in a shift up front acting as the focal point for everything his team-mates did behind him and there was plenty of graft from everyone to see the result through.
They needed Collins to be at his very best at the very end as he came up with two saves of pure instinct to keep out close-range scrambles from Cerny and Carel Eiting and, when he was finally beaten in stoppage time, referee Orel Grinfeld ruled it out for a foul by substitute Kaj Sierhuis on the young stopper as he prepared to deal with a corner kick.
The Blues now return to Switzerland where they will face Anderlecht in the last four. The Belgians had initially been knocked out by Dinamo Zagreb only to earn a reprieve when the Croatians were kicked out for fielding an ineligible player. They then beat Barcelona 2-0 last week to seal their place in the Semi Finals, whilst Paris Saint-Germain face off against Real Madrid in the other.
Both matches will be played in Nyon’s Stade du Colovray on the afternoon of Friday April 15th, with the Final scheduled for the following Monday.
Chelsea: Collins, Sterling, Tomori, Clarke-Salter, J.Dasilva (Chalobah 72), Colkett (c), Maddox, Ali, Abraham, Palmer, Scott (Christie-Davies 83)
Subs not Used: Grant, Baxter, Ugbo, Quintero, Sammut
Goal: Scott ‘44
Ajax: Groothuizen, Matusiwa (Bakboord 67), De Ligt, Eiting, Dankerlui, El Mahdioui, Cerny, Nouri (c) (Sierhuis 77), Walian (Kluivert 59), Van de Beek, Dekker
Subs not Used: De Lange, Blöte, Nunnely, Bergsma