Chelsea U19’s ran out 5-2 winners over Feyenoord on Wednesday, as it looks like another deep UEFA Youth League Run for Chelsea is in full flow. Chelsea were 3-1 up inside 30 minutes, ending the game in the 55th to go up 4-1. Late goals from either side made little difference.
Chelsea walked the group stages of the competition, dropping one result 2-0 to Roma at Cobham along the way. But success on the European stage is no stranger for the young Blues. They were champions of the 2015 and 2016 UEFA Youth League competitions, while finishing runners-up in its predecessor the NextGen Series. The 2017 UEFA Youth League saw them ousted as the first team did not qualify for the senior competition, but 2018 sees the return of what might be Europe’s strongest youth side.
Another Successful UEFA Youth League Run for Chelsea
Building A Dynasty
Chelsea have cycled through class after class of successful youth generations. Starting with the NextGen Series finalist team, you had Patrick Bamford, Jeremie Boga, Lucas Piazon, crowned by Lewis Baker. Baker had a brace in both the quarterfinal and semifinal, as he quickly became one of the biggest names in Chelsea’s academy. After beating an astonishingly talented Barcelona team 2-0, Chelsea thrashed Juventus 4-1 in the quarterfinal. A 4-3 victory over Arsenal saw the Blues advance to the final, before a 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa.
The NextGen Series was quickly scrapped in favour of the UEFA Youth League, where Chelsea quickly asserted their dominance. The second year of the competition arrived, and so did Chelsea on the main stage. An improved core of Lewis Baker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathan Ake, Andreas Christensen and Ola Aina drove Chelsea to higher heights. Jeremie Boga and Charly Musonda continued to impress, as did Izzy Brown, Dominic Solanke and Tammy Abraham. Simply listing off the names tells you enough about the quality of this side. Loftus-Cheek, Christensen and Aina may well find themselves at the World Cup this summer, while the others continue to impress on loan at the senior level.
Asserting Total Dominance
Chelsea walked the group stages, scoring 24 goals and conceding only three across the three matches. Norbert Elgert went as far as to say, “I see no player in my first eleven who has a chance to play in the first eleven of Chelsea’s academy.” That was a first eleven which included Leroy Sane. The Blues went on to coast past Zenit 3-1, scrape their way by Atletico Madrid 2-0, before demolishing Roma in the semifinal 4-0. A comfortable 3-2 win against Shakhtar Donetsk in the final saw the Blues claim their first Youth League title at Nyon, Switzerland.
The next attempt saw Chelsea struggle on the way, as key players left on loan and new ones filled old gaps. An undefeated group stage led way to a controversial penalty shootout against Valencia in the round of 16. One Valencia penalty struck a stanchion inside the goal before rebounding out, which the referee interpreted as striking the post. Chelsea advanced, before comfortably dispatching Ajax, Anderlecht, and PSG in the final.
The New Cast
As another UEFA Youth League Run for Chelsea gets itself underway, a new cast makes itself known. Dutch members Daishawn Redan and Juan Castillo have been electric so far. Castillo was the standout player against Feyenoord, devastating from left wing back. New arrival Ethan Ampadu, who has stood out in the senior side, has made himself a mainstay at the club. His tenacity and ferocity, either in midfield or in a back three, is unparalleled for a player of his age. Coupled with his passing range and physical ability, Ampadu could have a long career as a Blue. Ampadu opened the scoring with a header six minutes into the match.
Dujon Sterling and Callum Hudson-Odoi impressed, from right wingback and a free role respectively. Both have made their senior debut this season, with Hudson-Odoi looking one of the brightest prospects in Chelsea’s academy. The English attacker has regularly found himself on Conte’s bench and was named PL2 player of the month for January. Sterling looks a ready-made depth solution for the Blues, as Davide Zappacosta has failed to impress at right wingback. A versatile athletic wingback, he smashed physical records on his first day of preseason that have stood since Arjen Robben’s time at Chelsea.
Chelsea will play Real Madrid in the next round, a tough test regardless of quality. As it looks like another deep UEFA Youth League Run for Chelsea, the focus begins to shift. Are the trophies and accolades being won at youth level indicative of academy success, or is the number of senior first teamers? With Antonio Conte being more receptive to youth appearances than past managers (including himself a year ago), it bodes well for the current crop.
Hudson-Odoi has already made three senior appearances this season. Andreas Christensen has become a fixture at the heart of the defence. Ampadu has made seven and earned a senior Wales call-up. The tides are changing, and another deep UEFA Youth League Run for Chelsea might be the trigger that sets it all off in SW6.
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