An eventful extended weekend in and around Chelsea Football Club drew to a disappointing close on Monday afternoon as Chelsea U19 were soundly beaten by an impressive Barcelona in the UEFA Youth League final in Nyon, Switzerland. Chelsea were back in the competition after a year’s break — stupid rules that have since been changed and the defending champions now automatically qualify — but were unable to add a third title after back-to-back triumphs in 2015 and 2016. Barcelona thus add to their 2014 success, meaning that both La Masia and Cobham can now display a record two UEFA Youth League trophies.
Chelsea had been absolutely dominant in this competition until the final weekend, but Barcelona came in without a single loss to their name (Chelsea had been beaten once in the group stage, by AS Roma) and certainly looked the part in the final. Chelsea struggled in Friday’s 2-2 semifinal draw with Porto, and only a Willy Caballero-esque effort from young goalkeeper Jamie Cumming in the shootout ensured that Joe Edwards’ charges would be playing in Monday’s final in the first place.
The short turnaround probably didn’t help already tired legs, neither did the absence of Trevoh Chalobah through suspension. Edwards’ choice to play 3-4-3 against a possession-oriented Barcelona could be questioned if this was a game above youth level, though Chelsea’s lack of focus may have undone any sort of tactical plan in the end. Edwards minced no words afterwards, even as he was conscious of not coming down too harsh on a bunch of teenagers.
“It was an absolute disaster from start to finish, it was so unlike us.
“I don’t want to be too damning across the board on the lads because it is a fantastic achievement to get to the final of this competition. We had a message from Frank Lampard before the game, saying that once you get to a final and you don’t win, you wish you hadn’t got there because it hurts so much. Frank is right.
“We spoke about the fact there wouldn’t be any shame in losing to Barcelona if we could walk in and say we gave everything we could. Unfortunately we didn’t get anywhere near the standards we normally set for ourselves. Physically, we didn’t look as sharp as them, on the ball we were poor and they really punished us today.”
It took Barca 30 minutes to finally take advantage of the gaps and spaces, adding a quick second after the break and finishing it off with a third just a few minutes from time. It was unfortunately no less than they deserved.
For the Chelsea boys, this was always going to be a learning experience, as any youth match is at its core, though on Monday it turned into a slightly different one than was probably expected at the beginning of the campaign.
“There have been plenty of occasions when we have been jumping the pitch with the trophy and we have to feel that pain inside and so whenever the next time they have this opportunity, they make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“We set high standards from the first team down and this is a club where you’re expected to win. and even if you can’t win, when you get to those big games, you really have to show you are capable of playing in them.
“And today we really disappointed, we really let ourselves down. The boys need to accept that.’
But there is no time to wallow in self-pity; the FA Youth Cup takes place this weekend, with the first leg against Arsenal on Friday followed by the second leg on Monday. The second phase of the U18 Premier League is still to be contested as well, and Chelsea will need to win that in order to qualify for next season’s UEFA Youth League.
“Sometimes after a setback, the best thing is to get out on the pitch as soon as possible and put it right. Hopefully the boys will be celebrating lifting a trophy on Monday.”
-Joe Edwards; source: Mail
Let’s get it!