UYL report: Qarabag 1 Chelsea 3

Our Under-19s came from behind to beat Qarabag and guarantee progression from our UEFA Youth League group.

The other game in the group ended in an Atletico Madrid victory, so if we avoid defeat against the Spanish side in our final fixture, first place will definitely be ours. That would mean we advance straight to the last 16 of the competition. Second spot requires a further play-off match, but the Blues are in a strong position whatever following a fourth victory in the competition this season.

It wasn’t plain sailing in Baku, though, and after a scrappy goalless first 45, heavily affected by a biting wind, Qarabag took the lead through Yaroslav Deda.

The Blues were stung by that setback and triggered into action, netting three times in 15 minutes. Martell Taylor-Crossdale drew us level from the spot before sub Charlie Brown fired in from range. George McEachran sealed the win with a fine finish of his own and ensured our aspirations in this tournament are well and truly alive. 

Joe Edwards was forced into a reshuffle before kick-off as Callum Hudson-Odoi, initially named in the starting XI, had to be replaced by Tariq Uwakwe. He joined Billy Gilmour in central midfield, and McEachran advanced into the no.10 role.

Ethan Ampadu started at the back and there was a return between the posts in this competition for Marcin Bulka.

The keeper had home striker Deda bearing down on him inside the opening couple of minutes, and watched on as the very presentable chance was put wide of his post. It was an early warning sign of the Azeri’s threat on the counter.

We responded well and had three good opportunities to take the lead at the 6,000-capacity Karabakh Stadium. At the back post Ampadu bounced a header wide, then Jacob Maddox had a goalbound shot blocked (below), before Martell-Crossdale nodded the best chance yet past the post. 

The wind was making it hard for the youngsters to judge the weight of passes, but the Blues fashioned an opening shortly after the half-hour mark following a flowing move across the pitch. Captain Cole Dasilva was denied at the near post.

Plenty of fouls were also disrupting the rhythm of the game, and it was no great surprise the first half ended scoreless after a scrappy 45 minutes of football.

It didn’t take long for the deadlock to be broken, however, and it was our hosts who went ahead. Deda had already fired over by the time a wind-affected Ampadu header looped over Guehi and into the Qarabag striker’s path. Unlike in the first half he made no mistake, slipping his shot through Bulka’s legs.

In response to that setback Taylor-Crossdale stung Huseynov’s palms from 18 yards, and on the sidelines Edwards replaced Uwakwe with Conor Gallagher looking to inject some urgency into his team. 

On the hour we were handed a lifeline. Taylor-Crossdale slipped free behind the Qarabag backline and drew a foul from the outrushing keeper, who somewhat needlessly tripped him as the no.9 was heading away from goal. He stepped up and sent Huseynov the wrong way.

Taylor-Crossdale might have had a second in as many minutes, but this time Huseynov got across and parried.

Deda had a golden chance to restore Qarabag’s advantage as this time Dasilva’s header back sent him through on goal, but he hit his latest effort too hard and high. 

Before that opening Charlie Brown replaced Gilmour, and it was he who punished Deda’s miss within a couple of minutes. His 25-yard effort caught Huseynov out – still recovering his position following a poor kick – and kissed the inside of the right-hand post before hitting the net.

We didn’t have to wait long to put the outcome beyond doubt. St Clair’s run down the right was a good one and when his cross wasn’t fully cleared, McEachran picked up the loose ball and drilled a shot into the corner. 

A quarter-of-an-hour remained and we saw that time out with relative ease, even threatening to further extend our lead. A difficult obstacle had been overcome.

Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Marcin Bulka; Marc Guehi (Jonathan Panzo 83), Joseph Colley, Ethan Ampadu, Cole Dasilva (c); Tariq Uwakwe (Conor Gallacher 55), Billy Gilmour (Charlie Brown 65); Harvey St Clair, George McEachran, Jacob Maddox; Martell Taylor-Crossdale.
Unused subs Jamie Cumming, Juan Castillo.
Scorers Taylor-Crossdale (pen) 61, Brown 70, McEachran 76
Booked Gallagher 62

Qarabag (4-4-2): Mammad Huseynov; Yusif Hasanov (Taleh Rzayev 90+1), Elchin Asadov, Asgar Huseynov, Turan Manafov; Zaur Farzaliyev (c), Pilagha Mehdiyev, Ibrahim Gadirzade, Suleyman Ahmadov; Yaroslav Deda, Misir Rustamov (Ali Aliyev 74).
Unused subs Afghan Farruxlu, Rahid Aghazada, Ulvi Ibrahimov, Akif Humbatzada, Ibragimm Huseinov.
Scorer Deda 50
Booked Mehdiyev 80