If there were still some people out there who weren’t aware that Chelsea were in this season’s UEFA Youth League, there won’t be any more, after they beat Molde 10-1 on Wednesday afternoon to get the ball rolling on another campaign in which they intend to challenge for honours.
The Blues’ first-team’s failure to qualify for the Champions League left their Under-19s unable to enter the path of the junior-age tournament that mirrors the big boys and, perhaps understandably, many people thought that was enough to leave the two-time winners of the Lennart Johansson Trophy on the outside looking in, particularly after that happened in 2016-17.
As reigning English Under-18 champions, however, Chelsea secured themselves a spot in the Domestic Champions route, alongside 31 such other teams from around Europe, and they quickly set themselves apart against Norway’s finest with a rampant and clinical display at Cobham on a warm autumn afternoon. They scored seven before half-time, the glut of goals coming in a remarkably 25-minute spell, and made sure to hit double-figures shortly after the hour. Daishawn Redan and Billy Gilmour led the way with a hat-trick apiece, while Charlie Brown grabbed two, and there was one for George McEachran in addition to an early own-goal.
Manager Joe Edwards, who was joined by John Terry for parts of the afternoon on the Chelsea staff, picked just about the strongest team available to him for the first leg of what might, on paper, have appeared to be an awkward fixture. Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ethan Ampadu missed out on first-team duty, but otherwise it was an experienced and highly-decorated starting eleven. Jamie Cumming started behind a back three of captain Joseph Colley, Marc Guehi, and 16 year-old Ian Maatsen , who was playing in a slightly unfamiliar left-sided centre-back role to allow Juan Castillo to operate at wing-back.
Tariq Lamptey took his spot opposite Castillo on the right, with Conor Gallagher alongside Gilmour and McEachran in midfield due to Luke McCormick’s absence through injury. Brown and Redan started together in attack keen to add to their fifty-something combined goals over the past season and a bit.
After taking ten minutes to get to grips with the task ahead of them, and going close to opening the scoring through Guehi, the goals began to flow. Brown opened the scoring after a quarter of an hour with a persistent effort and sharp finish from close range after Gallagher had found his route blocked, but it could have all been different had Molde’s appeals for a penalty not fallen on the deaf ears of referee Jorgen Burchardt minutes later.
Once they had two, though, the hosts went for the kill. Lamptey’s cross from the right was turned into his own net by Molde captain Thor Olav Moe, and two minutes later Gilmour got his first of the day with an accurate header back across goal and into the top corner from Gallagher’s delivery from the right. Having barely had enough time to breath, a third goal in four minutes arrived courtesy of Redan; the Dutchman applied the finish to a swift counter-attack executed with the minimum of fuss, as Brown latched onto a ball down the left and delivered the perfect cross for his partner in crime to finish.
Still the goals came, and the fifth, finished by Gilmour, was the pick of the bunch. A slick passing move in congested central areas saw the play spread to Lamptey on the right, and he returned the ball to the penalty spot, where Gilmour was on hand to steer home a glorious volley, leaving Oliver Petersen rooted to the spot. Redan quickly made it 6-0 with a simple close-range finish at the culmination of yet more incisive football, and there was still time for Brown to get a seventh with a low finish on his right foot after weaving his way into position with a superb solo run.
It’s often the case that big half-time leads give way to disappointing second-half displays, with the points already in the bag, but there was little chance of this Chelsea team allowing that to happen, as Redan ably demonstrated with his third of the afternoon five minutes after the restart. Denied by Petersen seconds earlier, he made sure he would go home with a match ball when following up Gallagher’s blocked effort.
That was 8-0, and nine followed seven minutes later. Gilmour would also get a match ball as a souvenir when he neatly headed home from Castillo’s cross, and Castillo himself will have been disappointed not to get in on the act with a powerful drive across the face of goal and just wide of the far post.
Chelsea brought up double figures when Redan unselfishly handed McEachran the chance to add his name to the scoresheet; his fake shot leaving two Molde defenders reeling, before laying off to the young midfielder, who found an impressively skilful finish to beat Petersen for the tenth time on the day.
Edwards used the situation to make the most of the opportunity to hand playing time to some of the younger players in his squad, aided by new UEFA rules allowing five substitutes to be used, and so Marcel Lavinier, Jack Wakely, Thierno Ballo and Jon Russell all made their Youth League debuts. The subsequent loss of momentum allowed Molde to grab a consolation when a substitute of their own, Anders Iversen, got on the end of Simen Hagbø’s cross, but even with a return leg at the Aker Stadion in three weeks’ time to look forward to, they must know their race has already been run.
For Chelsea, the trip to Norway might well now be a chance for a completely different group of players to get the chance to taste European football, as they prepare to face either KR of Iceland or Sweden’s Elfsborg in the Second Round, should they see this tie through in the ninety minutes yet to come.
Chelsea: Cumming, Lamptey, Colley ©, Guehi (Lavinier 58), Maatsen, McEachran (Russell 66), Gallagher, Gilmour, Redan (Ballo 66), Brown, Castillo (Wakely 66)
Subs not Used: Ziger, Lewis, Broja
Goals: Brown ’14, ’43, Moe ’23 og, Gilmour ’26, ’37, ’57, Redan ’26, ’39, ’50, McEachran ‘65
Booked: Brown, Redan
Molde: Petersen, Hagbø, Orsal, Moe©, Flones (Haugland 87), Svendsen, Breivik, Jenset (Ugelvik 87), Hestad, Sundgot (Iversen 63), Rosok (Bolso 81)
Subs not Used: Raestadt
Goal: Iversen ‘72