Chelsea are Under-19 Champions of Europe for the second season running after overcoming Paris Saint-Germain in a dramatic Final at Nyon’s Stade du Colovray on Monday afternoon.
Goals from Fikayo Tomori and Kasey Palmer either side of a Yakou Meite equaliser were enough to keep the Lennart Johansson trophy at Cobham for another year but it required a staunch and terrific defensive effort throughout, a Brad Collins penalty save, and a little bit of luck to get across the line. PSG will go home feeling they did enough to win but it was Charlie Colkett who lifted the trophy amid joyous scenes at the final whistle.
With a fully-fit 21-player squad to pick from, Adi Viveash’s strongest selection dilemma was whether to include Jay Dasilva in the starting eleven having just returned from a month-long lay-off. He didn’t, and instead opted for an unchanged side from Friday’s 3-0 win over Anderlecht. PSG were forced into a change in midfield with Antoine Bernede in for the injured Lorenzo Callegari, a swap they were forced into after 34 minutes of their Semi Final against Real Madrid.
Against a side many, including Viveash himself, considered to be the best the Blues have faced in the competition in the past two years, Chelsea’s early approach was to let the Parisiens control possession and pick them off when afforded the chance to. It worked a treat as several clear-cut chances came their way in a frantic first fifteen minutes and eventually culminated in the opening goal.
Jacob Maddox was first to find himself in a good position only to lack accuracy with his attempted cutback for Tammy Abraham, who himself then had the ball in the net after pressure from Mukhtar Ali only to be ruled offside. Maddox and Palmer followed that by knitting together a lovely passage of play that released Ali clear on goal but, with perhaps too much time on his side, he looked to pass to Abraham rather than take the shot on himself and PSG cleared their lines.
Still Chelsea came at them though, and Remy Descamps had to intervene with a genuinely world-class save to pluck Palmer’s 30-yard blockbuster out of the top corner. Respite was limited though as a pair of corners followed, and the second led to a goal. Jake Clarke-Salter’s free header was blocked by captain Mamadou Doucoure, but his centre-back partner Tomori reacted fastest to slam home from eight yards out to make it 1-0.
With a 4,000-capacity crowd catching its collective breath, PSG won a penalty from kickoff. A long ball gave Christopher Nkunku a chance to race against Tomori, and the young defender clumsily tripped his man for a spot kick. Jean-Kevin Augustin, the most experienced player on the pitch with eleven first-team appearances to his name this season, took the responsibility but saw his effort saved low by Collins.
Things settled down marginally by comparison after that but both sides still had their moments. Yakou Meite headed wide whilst Cameroonian international Felix Eboa Eboa was booked for hauling down the lively Palmer when well placed. Referee Daniel Siebert had been kept on his toes in the first forty-five minutes and was at the centre of attention again when Ballo Toure shoved Maddox to the ground in the PSG penalty area; he looked to be ready to point to the spot for a second time only to rather inexplicably then wave play on.
Meite and Georgen had decent openings shut down by the alert Collins just before the break but Chelsea went in at the break deservedly a goal to the good. It should have been two shortly after action resumed when Abraham sprung the offside trap to collect a searching ball from the back but, with nobody in black near him, curled over the crossbar.
He would regret it too. PSG embarked on their strongest spell of the game, pinning their foes back into their own defensive third, and made it count with an equaliser. Meite stole a yard on Aina and that was all it took for him to deploy his rocket of a left foot; the ball fizzing past Collins and into the far corner.
Now it was all about how Chelsea reacted. Viveash swapped Scott for Mason Mount but it was one already on the pitch that had the right stuff to restore their lead within three minutes. A sloppy ball in midfield allowed Ali to take over possession, and he slipped a perfect through ball into Palmer’s path. He still had work to do in holding off Eboa Eboa but did it expertly to dispatch his 16th goal of a wonderful individual season.
That spurred Francois Rodrigues into introducing impact substitutes Ikone and Kanga from the bench following their impressive cameos on Friday, and Ikone quickly drew a foul from Clarke-Salter that earned a yellow card but might have been deemed a red by another referee. Once he was back to his feet he collected possession, beat Dujon Sterling and whipped a shot just wide of the bottom corner.
A Chelsea corner presented them with their next chance of a second equaliser, Nkunku leading the charge before feeding Ikone. Slightly out of position, he laid it off to Meite, but Collins got something on it en route for a corner. Another one soon followed and Chelsea scrambled clear from an almighty scramble, but couldn’t wrestle back the initiative.
Nkunku was next to be wasteful, dribbling his strike wide with just Sterling on the line to beat, and it was all that Chelsea could do to get the ball away and have a moment to catch their breath. Ikone, the most effective player on either side, had two further chances to take it to penalties but he nor PSG could do it and the Blues held on to become the first side of any age group to retain the top European trophy.
They did so with an eighteen-man matchday squad comprised entirely of players eligible to represent England and in different yet no less thrilling circumstances than their triumph twelve months earlier. Whether or not they’ll be allowed to defend their title depends on domestic Under-18 league success and/or UEFA allowing them in as holders, but right now a huge and hearty congratulations goes to everyone at Cobham, from Academy Manager Neil Bath right on down, for a job exceptionally well done yet again.
Chelsea: Collins, Sterling, Tomori, Clarke-Salter, Aina, Colkett (c), Maddox, Ali, Abraham, Palmer (Wakefield 85), Scott (Mount 58)
Subs not Used: J.Dasilva, Baxter, Chalobah, Christie-Davies, Sammut, Wakefield
Goal: Tomori ’10, Palmer ‘61
Booked: Tomori, Scott, Aina, Clarke-Salter, Ali
PSG: Descamps, Georgen, Toure, Eboa Eboa, Doucoure (c), Demoncy, Nkunku, Edouard (Ikone 62), Meite, Augustin (Kanga 70), Bernede (Giacomini 85)
Subs not Used: Aggoune, Labissiere, Konate, Zagadou
Goal: Meite ‘57
Booked: Eboa Eboa, Meite
(title picture copyright UEFA)