The Chelsea Under-19s booked their place in the last four of the NextGen Series, in their debut campaign in the competition, with an impressive win at Griffin Park.
Goals from Lewis Baker and Alex Kiwomya in the opening quarter of an hour sent the hosts into a commanding early lead, before a goal back from Daniele Rugani midway through the second period made a brief contest of the game. However, Islam Feruz and Baker both grabbed late goals ensured the Blues progressed to the semi-finals.
Dermot Drummy made four changes from the side that triumphed out in Barcelona in the last round of this NextGen Series competition. Jamal Blackman returned in goal while, in front of him, there was a debut in this competition for left-back Kevin Wright. Nathan Aké, Alex Davey and Andreas Christensen made up the back four.
Lewis Baker captained the side from midfield and joined Davey as the only two who had started every game of the competition this campaign. Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Jeremie Boga made up the midfield trio, with Alex Kiwomya and Adam Nditi supporting striker Islam Feruz from the flanks.
Drummy’s side had early control of the opening exchanges, keeping possession comfortably in midfield and easing themselves into the contest, although the visiting striker Eric Lanini flashed the first opportunity of the game past Blackman’s far post after just a few minutes.
Yet after a period of confident ball retention from the young Blues it was a magnificent finish from captain Baker that broke the deadlock after just 11 minutes. The midfield man found some space about 25 yards out and rifled his shot into the top corner with a terrific effort that had Juventus keeper Constantin Branescu grasping thin air.
It was the perfect start from the hosts, however it was to get even better as they doubled their advantage just two minutes later. Feruz caused problems running at the visiting defence before slipping a perfect ball in behind to find Kiwomya’s run and the forward finished confidently down low past Branescu for his third NextGen goal of the campaign, and the young Blues were two-nil up after less than a quarter of an hour.
That double salvo knocked the stuffing out of the Italians, with Chelsea looking the most likely to grab another goal rather than the visitors find a way back into the match. Nditi fired just wide after neat build-up play involving Loftus-Cheek, before the latter shot narrowly over the bar after bursting onto some decent control from Feruz in the middle of the pitch as Drummy’s side enjoyed their domination of the game.
Such was the extent of the visitors’ early struggles that they made a double change just before the half hour mark, clearly designed with the aim of putting more pressure on Chelsea in possession of the ball and using it better themselves. However, no obvious early impact was forthcoming and it was Chelsea causing trouble once again soon after.
Loftus-Cheek spun superbly away from a defender at close quarters before feeding in Kiwomya down the right. His pace earned him a couple of yards over the full-back and he managed to work a delivery into the box, which Feruz did well to challenge for in the air, though Branescu just managed to keep a grasp of the high ball.
As the interval loomed Feruz once again worked the visiting keeper, firing in low and hard from the edge of the box, but Branescu did well again to get down and hold on to the ball, before Blackman down the other end had to be at his best to keep the hosts’ two-goal advantage intact heading into the break.
Mattiellio’s driven effort across the box was heading harmlessly wide before an untimely deflection off Aké sent it goal-bound and forced the Blues stopper into an excellent reaction save. Having had very little to contend with up to that point, it was an important and very impressive stop in the final few minutes of the half.
The second period began with the onus on the visitors to find a way back into the tie and their best spell of the game came about five minutes after the restart, with a string of corners floated into the young Blues’ box and a couple of long-range efforts well blocked, before Blackman made another very good save with an outstretched foot to deny Beltrame.
Schiavone fired over from range as Juventus began to enjoy more of the ball in the final third, before Beltrame saw a shot fly straight into Blackman’s midriff.
A well-worked driven corner from Baker found Nditi in some space about 10 yards out, though his adjustment to get the ball onto his favoured left foot saw him lose the chance as he was closed down quickly.
It wasn’t long though before the ball was in the back of the net once again. Beltrame’s inswinging free kick from the left of the area was dangerous and Rugani seemed to get the slightest of touches to nod the ball past Blackman and put the young Italians back in the game with less than 20 minutes to play.
That goal was the catalyst for the match properly opening up for the first time in the day, with Juventus searching for an equaliser that would take the tie to an additional half an hour of extra time and the hosts breaking on the counter. It was through one of those pacey breaks that Chelsea wrapped the game with less than 10 minutes remaining. Kiwomya sped away down the right and centred a neat assist for Feruz, who finished expertly from close range for his sixth goal in seven NextGen starts this term.
Blackman made another impressive double save to keep Chelsea’s two-goal lead intact, before Baker added his second, and the hosts’ fourth, right at the death. Neat interplay between Feruz and Colkett on the edge of the penalty area saw the substitute provide a delicious chip over to the skipper, who finished impressively down low into the corner.
It was a goal that gave the scoreline an imposing edge and sent Drummy’s young team into the semi-finals, to be held in Como, Italy over Easter weekend.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Jamal Blackman, Andreas Christensen, Alex Davey, Nathan Aké, Kevin Wright; Ruben Loftus-Cheek (John Swift 60), Lewis Baker (c), Jeremie Boga (Charlie Colkett 70); Alex Kiwomya, Adam Nditi, Islam Feruz.
Unused substitutes Mitchell Beeney, Daniel Pappoe, Dion Conroy, Fankaty Dabo.