A Chelsea Under 19 side let slip a lead and then came up against an inspired goalkeeper as the club’s first involvement in the NextGen Series ended in defeat.
The match, played at Cobham on Tuesday evening, was a group game in what is a Champions League-style competition for this age group.
The side named by Dermot Drummy for the visit by CSKA Moscow will be familiar to anyone who followed the FA Youth Cup triumph last season, but with Mitchell Beeney rather than Jamal Blackman in goal, plus places in attack for Thorgan Hazard, younger brother of Eden, and Patrick Bamford.
It was Bamford who gave Chelsea the lead and was one of the players later denied by the keeper after the Russians had turned the deficit into a half-time lead.
It took just eight minutes for Chelsea to go ahead. Hazard had shot just the wrong side of the CSKA far post following a sustained attack that he had initiated. Then Todd Kane, captain on the night and forward from right-back, was allowed the space to cross low all the way into the six-yard box where Bamford played the predator, turning the ball in from close range.
Chelsea had been alert and crisp in our passing from the kick-off, and that continued after the goal. Nikolaly Dergachev playing as a lone striker for CSKA was looking very isolated as his colleagues were forced back.
The right-footed Piazon and left-footed Hazard were swapping wings regularly while Lewis Baker, Nathaniel Chalobah and John Swift were all showing good touches in midfield.
The CSKA striker did however have a sight of the Chelsea goal with 28 minutes played when a clever chip over the Blues backline gave him a race to the ball against Beeney which the Russian won, only to float the ball wide of the post.
Chelsea went straight up the other end and Bamford drilled a low shot into the keeper’s grasp.
CSKA, who won their first game in the tournament 2-1 at home to Molde of Norway, were improving though, and it took some diligent covering from left-back Nditi to prevent Dergachev making something out of a dangerous pass into the box, and then Beeney saved a good strike from Ambartsymyan.
The warning was there and on 35 minutes came the leveller – a low shot from range by captain Zaseev that left Beeney wrong-footed as it found the bottom corner.
Three minutes later Chelsea were behind and there was nothing Beeney could possibly have done as a cross from Bagbasaryah was whipped in from the left and Dergachev thumped a header high into the net. Netfullin could have inflicted even more damage after robbing Alex Davey but fired wide.
Chalobah attempted to wrestle the initiative back with a charge forward from his own half but was soon fouled. Hazard however did manage to tease the CSKA defence with his left foot, running at pace and slipping the ball on to Piazon who drew a save out of Sengey Revyakin. Then in stoppage time the ball dropped onto Piazon’s thigh in front of goal but he couldn’t direct it on target.
For the second-half Chelsea were far more like the side seen in the opening period of the game. Dermot Drummy made one change at the interval – Jeremie Boga, still a schoolboy, on for John Swift in midfield. Not long after, Islam Feruz, striker in the Youth Cup win, came on to play wide so two players with low centre of gravity had been added.
Lewis Baker, now playing deeper, crossed promisingly but too far in front of Bamford and then Piazon almost picked out the top corner with a well-struck effort but was denied by the first of a string of good saves. Another was when the Brazilian met a Boga cross with his head at the near post.
Piazon looked the man most likely to break down CSKA and he kept the ball well in a crowded area before finding Feruz for a hammered shot that the keeper was strong to repel at the post.
Then Bamford should have scored for the second time in the game. Boga slipped past a tackle beautifully and passed forward to the England Under-19 centre-forward but the shot was too close to Revyakin who saved.
Five subs a side are permitted in this competition as long as there are only three stoppages to introduce them and Drummy altered his defence with two changes before the end.
When his attack had the ball they were coming up against a wall of white shirts but when Piazon shot on-target, the keeper pulled off a one-handed reaction save with Feruz firing into the sidenetting with the follow-up.
‘We are obviously disappointed to lose and mentally we switched off when we were 1-0 up,’ said Drummy after the final whistle.
‘CSKA started to press us and we became sloppy and started to give possession away in our defensive third and gave away sloppy goals. That is a lesson for the boys.
‘We should have won the game on chances second-half, I can’t fault their endeavour, and the keeper pulled off three really good saves and Patrick Bamford probably should have done better with the one-on-one.
‘We are in this for this level of competition but we have to be switched on.
‘Jeremie Boga is an exciting prospect. I had to ask him to play in a different position to normal to get us turned around in midfield and he did well on the ball at times and his attitude was fantastic.’
The next group game for Chelsea in this competition is on Wednesday 3 October, away to CSKA Moscow
Chelsea (4-3-3): Mitchell Beeney; Todd Kane (c), Alex Davey (Jordan Houghton 75), Nathan Ake, Adam Nditi (Kevin Wright 65); Lewis Baker, Nathaniel Chalobah, John Swift (Jeremie Boga h-t); Lucas Piazon, Patrick Bamford, Thorgan Hazard (Islam Feruz 55).