Chelsea’s Under-19 side rounded off their UEFA Youth League group stage campaign in style at Cobham on Tuesday evening, maintaining a 100 per cent record with six consecutive wins.
First-half goals from John Swift, Alex Kiwomya and an Islam Feruz double gave Dermot Drummy’s side a commanding lead at the break, before an Ambrose Gnahore goal early in the second half sealed the win.
It means the young Blues progress to the knockout last-16 stage, with the competition resuming in the New Year.
With the FA Youth Cup third-round tie against Dartford on Thursday evening in mind, it was a carefully considered team selection from manager Drummy.
The likes of Nathan Ake, Lewis Baker, Swift and Feruz, those too old now for 2013/14 Youth Cup participation, were mixed with a selection of schoolboys and first-year scholars, such as George Brady, Bradley Collins and Mukhtar Ali.
Ake skippered the side from left back, with Brady, Andreas Christensen and Isak Ssewankambo making up the back four, in front of Collins in goal. Baker teamed up with Swift and Ali in midfield, while Feruz led the line up front supported by Kiwomya and Isaiah Brown from the flanks.
The bench featured a host of Joe Edwards’ Under-16s, as Drummy gave European experience to as many youngsters as possible in these latter group games.
The young Blues, intent on maintaining their 100% group stage record, started brightly and, after an opening few minutes of dominant possession and growing territorial advantage, grabbed a lead inside four minutes.
Captain Ake advanced forward down the left flank, beating a couple of defenders and advancing dangerously towards goal. He fell as he burst past another defender though faint cries for a penalty were waved away as the loose ball fell to Kiwomya.
The wideman was in space and used the opportunity to fire an early shot on goal, which Alexandru Cojocaru, the visiting goalkeeper, could only spill into the path of the lurking Swift, who tapped home from close range for his fifth European goal of the season.
It was the early advantage Drummy’s side sought to set the tempo for the game and Swift could have doubled his, and Chelsea’s, tally after just seven minutes, though his effort from the right was into the side-netting after Feruz had intelligently supplied him down the channel.
Feruz (pictured top) then had a couple of openings of his own as Chelsea continued to dictate the early proceedings and use their dominance to break through the Romanians’ defence to threaten Cojocaru’s goal. A well-won header from Ake’s delivery from the left sailed just wide before the striker combined neatly with Swift to fashion an opportunity that the goalkeeper was alert to and smothered quickly.
Steaua were struggling to compete, surrendering midfield possession and defending deep, allowing the likes of Baker, Ali and Swift in midfield the time and space they cherished. The visitors only managed to advance in the final third as the result of occasional sloppiness playing out from the defence, though Collins was barely tested.
The Chelsea lead was doubled midway through the first half, though it arrived not from a period of sustained pressure on the Steaua goal, but from a moment of surprise magic from Feruz. The forward picked up the ball 40 yards out and, with no challenges on him forthcoming, took the opportunity to take aim at goal. His effort was stunning, flying through the air and beyond a helpless goalkeeper into the top corner, to bag his second goal of the Under-19s’ European campaign.
The hosts continued to dominate with wave after wave of attacks on the Steaua goal. Brown was enjoying plenty of space out wide on the left and the young Blues were using this avenue to great effect, with Baker almost profiting as he rounded the keeper at a tight angle before seeing a host of defenders combine to snuff out the threat.
However, it wasn’t long before the home side grabbed a third goal and it was Feruz once again on the scoresheet. Ali had time and space to deliver from the left and found the frontman in plenty of space at the front post, with Feruz providing the aerial finish unchallenged to extend his side’s advantage.
Feruz had a chance to wrap up his hat-trick, though fired a first-time effort wide just moments after nodding home that second, but a rare forward foray from the visitors gave Christensen some defending to do down the right channel, though Alexandru Mitrita couldn’t find a team-mate with his low delivery.
Ake then picked up a booking for a late tackle on Razvan Gradinaru before the rampant hosts grabbed a fourth goal five minutes before the break. Ssewankambo did well to advance beyond Catalin Cardas before providing a centre towards Kiwomya in the box. The wideman benefited from a slip and punished the mistake, firing beyond the goalkeeper and into the back of the net via the underside of the bar for his fourth goal in Europe this season.
Mitrita shot harmlessly over Collins’ bar in the final minutes of the half, while Ambrose Gnahore replaced Brown, who exited with a knock. Chelsea went in at the interval with their commanding four-goal lead firmly intact.
The visitors had it all to do to turn this final Group E game around, though began the second period well, enjoying their best spell of the game with a flurry of corners in quick succession. However, apart from a harmless shot that flew high over the bar, the visitors were unable to test the under-worked Collins in the Blues goal.
Feruz then did well to beat Alexandru Aldea down the right flank, skipping past the defender with a quick burst of pace, though the striker opted to go alone and shoot rather than play the ball back to Baker in space, and substitute goalkeeper Ionut Poiana got a hand to his effort and tipped it round the post.
Poiana could do nothing as substitute Gnahore added a fifth goal for the Blues less than 10 minutes into the second half. Christensen drew defenders as he burst forward from defence, surging through the heart of the Steaua backline, before Swift provided a neat flick for Gnahore who finished off smartly as the goalkeeper rushed off his line.
Chelsea continued to force the issue and were unlucky not to grab a sixth goal as Poiana denied Baker with a fine save with his feet as the midfielder’s effort arrowed towards the bottom corner, before Ake’s follow-up effort on the rebound bounced agonisingly the wrong side of the far post.
Swift was excelling in the No.10 role, using his freedom to create and cause havoc for the Romanian defenders. His tricky footwork worked another opportunity as the hour-mark approached, though Gnahore’s fierce effort flew just wide.
A knock to Kiwomya midway through the second period saw the introduction of Chike Kandi, and there was also a debut Under-19 appearance for schoolboy Kyle Scott as the game ticked towards its inevitable conclusion of a home victory.
Gnahore had a chance to grab his second goal of the match, latching on to a super ball over the top and teeing himself up with an exquisite first touch, however he delayed his shot for too long and the defender was able to recover and clear the danger.
Kandi then took centre stage with a couple of chances, twisting in between defenders expertly before running into trouble right at the last moment, before the striker clipped the outside of the post in the final minutes.
That action concluded a comprehensive win for Drummy’s side which reflected the manner in which the Under-19s have controlled Group E from the start. The win ensures they are the only side that progress to the last-16 with a 100% record and they will find out their knockout round opponents at the draw on Monday, December 16. The next round is a single leg and as group winners, Chelsea will have a home tie.
The next youth action sees the FA Youth Cup begin once more, with Adi Viveash’s team hosting Dartford at Aldershot on Thursday evening in a game that can be seen live on Chelsea TV. Next up for the Under-21s is a trip to Bolton Wanderers on Monday December 16, their last league outing before Christmas.
Chelsea: Bradley Collins; Isak Ssewankambo, George Brady, Andreas Christensen, Nathan Ake (c); Lewis Baker, Mukhtar Ali (Kyle Scott 75), John Swift; Isaiah Brown (Ambrose Gnahore 45+2), Alex Kiwomya (Chike Kandi 65), Islam Feruz.
Unused substitutes: Jordan Beeney, Fikayo Tomori, Ruben Sammut.
Steaua Bucharest: Alexandru Cojocaru (Ionut Christian Poiana h/t), Alin Iordache, Alexandru Aldea (c), Andrei Bogdan Serban (Adrian Octavian Bogdan 59), Catalin Gabriel Cardas, Razvan Gradinaru, Adrian Vasile Bogdan, Antonio Alexandru Popa, Alexandru Ionut Mitrita, Daniel Christian Gheorghe (Marian Balan 80), Alexandru Tarnovan.
Unused substitutes: Marius Cosmin Patru, Andrei Ionut Tandara, Razvan Sorin Stoica, Laurentiu Nicolae Lupu.