Our first away game in the UEFA Youth League ended in victory as our Under-19s beat Steaua Bucharest 4-0 courtesy of two goals apiece for John Swift and Alex Kiwomya.
We dominated proceedings during the first half and took the lead when Swift, the outstanding player on the pitch, rounded off a brilliant move with his fourth goal of the campaign shortly before the half-hour mark, and that’s the way it remained until the break.
Five minutes into the second half it was 2-0 as Swift turned supplier, releasing Kiwomya who finished calmly to put us firmly in control of the contest.
Swift added his second and our third 12 minutes from time with a wonderful solo effort, before laying on the fourth for Kiwomya in the 87th minute.
It’s now maximum points, eight goals scored and none conceded from our opening two matches in the competition and we can now look forward to our next encounter, an away game against Schalke next month.
Chelsea manager Dermot Drummy named an unchanged side from the one which opened our campaign with a 4-0 win over Basel a fortnight ago. Nathan Ake skippered the team alongside Andreas Christensen in the centre of defence, while Kevin Wright, impressive against the Swiss outfit, retained his place at left-back. Lewis Baker, an unused substitute for the first team against Swindon Town last week, started in midfield, with Islam Feruz chosen to lead the line. Kasey Palmer was rewarded for his recent performances for the Under-18s with a place on the bench.
The home side came into the match in desperate need of the three points having lost their opening game in the competition 3-0 against Schalke, but it was the Blues who had the first sight of goal inside the opening four minutes.
After picking up an Ake pass out wide on the left Isaiah Brown evaded the challenge of Alin Iordache; his cross was deflected into the path of Kiwomya, presenting the Chelsea wide-man with a golden opportunity to give us the lead, but with the goal at his mercy he steered his volley wide.
It was a bright start by our youngsters, who were beginning to play some nice stuff, and moments later we saw another good opportunity go begging. Brown, this time in a more central position, supplied a lovely ball in behind the Steaua defence, but as Feruz raced through on goal, rather than taking the shot on he attempted to go around the goalkeeper, and Valentin Cojocaru was able to make the save at the striker’s feet.
The Blues were looking threatening every time we attacked, with the midfield trio of Baker, Swift and Ruben Loftus-Cheek dominating their Romanian counterparts in that area of the pitch, while also limiting the service to Steaua’s more creative players further forward.
Time and again, both through the middle and wide areas, we were able to utilise the spaces which were afforded through Steaua’s preference for adopting a high defensive line, but all too often we were let down by our final ball.
Our pressure, however, eventually told in the 26th minute, when we took a thoroughly deserved lead, and in some style.
A move which started in our own half saw Isak Ssewankambo and Swift involved before Loftus-Cheek released Kiwomya down the right flank with an intelligent flick. Swift had continued his run from deep and, as Kiwomya delivered a perfect cross to the far post the midfielder, who had timed his arrival to perfection, volleyed past Cojocaru to break the deadlock.
It was a fair reflection on how the game had developed, and seven minutes before the break our advantage was almost extended when Feruz, a peripheral figure for much of the first half, reacted quickest to pounce on Ake’s flick, but saw his header drop a fraction over the bar.
As the opening 45 minutes drew to a close there was much to be admired about our display, with the biggest concern the fact we weren’t leading by a more significant margin.
The second half began in a similar manner to how the first had ended, with Chelsea taking the game to our hosts, and Kiwomya was first to threaten, forcing a smart stop from Cojocaru at the near-post following a neat Swift lay-off.
A couple of minutes later, though, the same two players combined once again, and on this occasion we weren’t to be denied. Loftus-Cheek fed Swift just inside the Steaua half and, spotting the run of Kiwomya, he slipped a delightful ball into his path, and with only the goalkeeper to beat Kiwomya showed great composure to finish calmly and double our advantage.
The second goal seemed to take the sting out of the game slightly, with much of the ensuing period of play taking place in the midfield area.
Steaua substitute Razvan Stoica, on one of their rare forays into our penalty area, found himself booked for simulation when he went down after attempting to round Mitchell Beeney in the Chelsea goal, while at the other end Kiwomya should have put us out of sight when he raced through one-on-one with the ‘keeper, but as he went for a stylish chip Cojocaru made the save.
As the home side began to throw players forward in an attempt to force a way back into the game, spaces inevitably opened up for us on the break. Another chance went begging when Feruz saw his volley saved by Cojocaru from a Kiwomya cross, but with 12 minutes left to play the match was put to bed.
Baker worked his way to the by-line and picked out the unmarked Swift on the edge of the box with an excellent cross. As Swift brought the ball under control, he eased away from one challenge before jinking back inside another, sending Cojocaru to ground with a dummy and firing into the back of the net.
It was a goal of the highest quality and no more than Swift’s performance had merited with the Blues midfielder undoubtedly the outstanding player on the pitch.
There was still time for more, however, and it was no surprise that our fourth goal, which came with three minutes left to play, involved both Swift and Kiwomya, with the former crossing from wide on the right for the latter to finish easily.
Dermot Drummy was pleased with his team as a whole and the attractive football played.
‘It was a tough performance and the 4-0 was a credit to the way we continued to play open football,’ he said.
‘Steaua were very organised and worked to the end of the game which made it very difficult for us. Bu we had the pace of Alex Kiwomya and the industry and guile of John Swift who is showing a lot more intelligence in his play and he turned in a star performance.
‘But credit to all the boys, they have done really well but we can’t get carried away, we have to keep picking up points to qualify for the next stage.
‘The conditions were cold but the pitch was good and fast and the boys movedthe ball well, and Steaua did as well at times so it was a top-quality game and this competition gives you that.
‘We now watch the first team tonight, travel back on the plane with them, a day off tomorrow and then we prepare for the Under-21 game against Man City on Sunday.’
Chelsea (4-3-3): Mitchell Beeney; Isak Ssewankambo, Andreas Christensen, Nathan Ake (c), Kevin Wright; John Swift, Lewis Baker, Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Jordan Houghton 88); Alex Kiwomya, Islam Feruz, Isaiah Brown (Kasey Palmer 82).
Unused substitutes: Ben Killip (GK), Dion Conroy, Fankaty Dabo, Ola Aina.
Steaua Bucharest (4-2-3-1): Valentin Cojocaru; Alin Iordache, Robert Hodorogea, Catalin Alexandru (c), Cosmin Marius; Alexandru Antonio (Bogdan Andrei 54), Bogdan Vasile; Toni Razvan, Daniel Gheorghe (Razvan Stoica 65), Alexandru Tarnovan; Ionut Mitrita.
Unused substitutes: Marian Virtej (GK), Marius Balan, Adrian Boitos, Andrei Tandara, Laurentiu Lupu.
Referee Aleksei Eskov (Russia)
– Tickets for Sunday’s U21 game v Man City at Stamford Bridge must be bought in advance and are on sale until Friday.