UYL report: Chelsea 5 Qarabag 0

Our Under-19s made a strong return to the UEFA Youth League as five second-half goals ensured victory at Cobham.

Following a frustrating and goalless opening period, a red card for Qarabag’s Ibrahim Gadirzade shortly after the restart was followed by the opener from Callum Hudson-Odoi, a perfectly flighted free-kick whipped into the top corner.

Luke McCormick’s 11-minute hat-trick then secured the points before substitute Charlie Brown headed in a fifth to help the Blues to an emphatic victory.

Only two starters from the triumphant final of April 2016 retained their places in the line-up for the opening group game of the 2017/18 campaign. Dujon Sterling and Jacob Maddox joined 16-year-old Hudson-Odoi in providing the attacking support for lone striker Martell Taylor-Crossdale.

Trevoh Chalobah was an unused substitute in the 2-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain 17 months previously but started in the heart of defence against our Azerbaijani visitors, alongside Joseph Colley, Reece James and Cole Dasilva, with Jamie Cumming chosen to start in goal. McCormick skippered the side next to Ethan Ampadu in central midfield.

The visitors arrived in London happy to play the role of underdogs against the two-time competition winners but Rashad Sadygov’s side competed well on a bright but breezy afternoon at Cobham. They set up with a five-man defence and a clear objective to stifle the attacking intent of their opponents. Edwards’s side were faced with the challenge of breaking them down but the boys from Baku were far from toothless going forward.

Chalobah twice cleared the box with a diving header inside the opening 90 seconds before Cumming was forced into the first save of the afternoon, pushing a dipping 40-yard effort from Zaur Farzaliyev over the bar after gifting possession to the Qarabag captain.

Chelsea opportunities fell predominantly the way of their skipper McCormick during a difficult opening period for the hosts. The midfielder failed to connect to a dropping ball after James had headed a deep corner back across goal before he turned provider and delivered from the right for Ampadu to head narrowly over.

Qarabag’s early promise was faltering and they struggled for consistent possession as the half wore on, Farzaliyev’s drive wide their only attempt to worry Cumming. McCormick fired over as Dasilva found him in the box with an inviting inswinging cross from the left before forcing keeper Mammad Huseynov into a smart low stop to keep out his well-worked tee-up and strike.

Frustration started to creep into our game as the visitors took every opportunity to break up the rhythm of the match with delayed stoppages and a series of well-taken fouls. Colley went closest before the break after Maddox’s stinging drive was blocked, leading to a goalmouth scramble that ended with the Swedish defender’s overhead kick flying just off-target.

The interval probably came at an ideal time for Edwards’s players to take a breather and regroup, though an early dismissal for Qarabag played kindly into the hands of the home side. Having picked up a booking just before half-time, Gadirzade was a little unfortunate to see red four minutes after the restart as he slipped into a tackle on Hudson-Odoi. The referee was less forgiving and the Blues had a man extra for the remaining 41 minutes.

It took five minutes with a numerical advantage for the Blues to convert that into superiority on the scoreboard. Hudson-Odoi had fired into the side-netting moments before following clever footwork down the left but the breakthrough arrived from a set-piece, the forward bending a brilliant free-kick beyond the goalkeeper’s dive and into the near top corner.

The opener was the first of four goals during a prolific 20-minute salvo for Edwards’s side, with James in particular proving a constant threat down the right wing. His fizzing cross was almost turned in by Charlie Brown shortly after the striker’s introduction before McCormick bagged the goal his frequent efforts deserved with a thumping strike from 25 yards out.

A two-goal advantage settled our nerves and provided the perfect platform to go and score further goals against a team retreating deeper and deeper. Conor Gallagher followed Brown into the action from the bench and almost made an instant impact of his own, striking wide and then testing Huseynov with an effort that bounced up awkwardly for the keeper.

McCormick’s 11-minute treble was complete with a quarter of an hour remaining as another shot from outside the box, this time low following a cleared corner, found the back of the net before the 18-year-old nodded in his hat-trick at the back post following a wonderful delivery from James.

Dasilva blazed over from close range after good work between the full-back, James and Maddox before another perfect centre from James was converted by Brown, the striker in space and heading beyond the helpless goalkeeper.

While not a perfect performance from the hosts, a five-goal winning margin marks a notable return to Under-19 European football after a one-year enforced absence and extends their unbeaten run in the competition to 15 matches. The young Blues return with a trip to Atletico Madrid in a fortnight.

 

Chelsea (4-2-3-1) Jamie Cumming; Reece James, Joseph Colley, Trevoh Chalobah (Conor Gallagher 65), Cole Dasilva; Ethan Ampadu, Luke McCormick (c) (George McEachran 78); Dujon Sterling, Jacob Maddox, Callum Hudson-Odoi; Martell Taylor-Crossdale (Charlie Brown 58)
Unused subs
Juan Castillo, Marcin Bulka, Marc Guehi, Josh Grant
Scorers Hudson-Odoi 54; McCormick 63, 71, 74; Brown 80
Booked Ampadu, Taylor-Crossdale

Qarabag (5-4-1) Mammad Huseynov; Zaur Farzaliyev (c), Yusif Hasanov, Oliver Stoimenovski, Asgar Huseynov, Turan Manafov (Ibragim Huseinov 83); Bojan Miovski, Ibrahim Gadirzade, Elchin Asadov, Suleyman Ahmadov (Famin Aliyev 56); Ibrahim Aliyev (Taleh Rzayev 74)
Unused subs Rahim Rahimli, Rahid Aghazada, Ulvi Ibrahimov, Ali Aliyev
Booked Manafov, Gadirzade, Hasanov
Sent off Gadirzade 49

Referee Robert Hennessy