UYL preview: Mood and momentum

Chelsea Under-19s kick off a significant day in Spain as Champions League knockout football in the Nou Camp is preceded by a quarter-final tie for our youngsters in the UEFA Youth League.

Joe Edwards’s side travel to the capital to take on Real Madrid in a competition we won in both 2015 and 2016, with a place in the Nyon semi-finals up for grabs for the winners. The Blues topped their group before dispatching Feyenoord 5-2 in the last-16, a scoreline that caught the eye but masked certain issues that Edwards is keen are not repeated again.

‘I think the big reflection for us from the Feyenoord game was that we started exactly how we wanted to and were so dominant,’ Edwards told the official Chelsea website, ‘but we started to get sloppy, mainly because we were allowed to get sloppy. If Feyenoord had started at a sharper level, I’m sure it would’ve raised us and we know the level is going up now we go away from home to take on Real Madrid.

‘They’re a really good team but I don’t fear that sloppiness will be there again. These boys are used to working their way into the latter stages of competitions and as the challenge rises, they step up and rise as well.’

HIGHLIGHTS: FEYENOORD U19s (H) UYL

Our youngsters are the joint-top scorers going into the quarter-finals and their manager believes a clinical collective combination of technical and physical attributes will stand them in good stead as the knockout stages progress. After facing a league outing with our development squad on Sunday, preparation time has been limited for Edwards but he believes confidence in the ranks, more than hours on the training field, will count for more in Madrid.

‘There’s a nice balance to our team between the technical players who like to pass, dribble and combine with teammates, and then players with sheer pace and power as well,’ he continued. ‘That will pose an interesting problem for Real Madrid because they are a team that likes to take the initiative, press high and dominate possession. I’m sure they’ll want to do that but they’ll know if they do come too high up the pitch and be too aggressive, we’ve got a lot of players who can hurt them in behind.

‘We’ve only had one training session as a group in preparation but we’re used to that so it’s not a problem for us. The big thing is mood and momentum, to be on a run of good performances and good results like we are. That’s probably more important to me than going into a game with loads of days on the training pitch.’

Trevoh Chalobah has featured in all but one of our UEFA Youth League games this term, having lifted the trophy as a first-year scholar in 2015/16. The defender recently signed a new contract at the club and feels that provides a perfect springboard for him to finish the season strongly, with another UEFA Youth League medal top of his targets.

‘I was injured for a while at the start of the season but I’m back now and everything is going well,’ explained the 18-year-old. ‘I’ve been getting minutes with the development squad, signed my new contract and training regularly with the first team. It’s been a big jump for me but I’ve really enjoyed it and now I just need to keep working hard.

‘Compared to last season when I was one of the youngest, now it’s time for me to step up and help the team with my experience. I was involved in the competition two years ago as a 16-year-old and played almost every game early on, though obviously it got harder as we got nearer to the final so then I played mostly as a sub.

‘I said from the start of the season that this is a competition we should aim to win. The fact we weren’t in it last year means we’re all eager to go all the way. It’s important we prepare well for what will be a tough game but I think the boys are ready.’

"The big thing is mood and momentum, to be on a run of good performances and good results like we are. That’s probably more important to me than going into a game with loads of days on the training pitch."

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Real Madrid finished as runners-up to Tottenham in the group stage before overcoming the Russian side Krasnodar – in front of over 32,000 – and Bayern Munich. Edwards has watched them closely and feels their mental fortitude is a key attribute, as well as their typically Spanish technical proficiency.

‘They had a tough group with Borussia Dortmund and Tottenham, then had a difficult away game in the play-off round but their standout was in the last-16 away at Bayern,’ Edwards continued. ‘To go down to 10 men seconds into the second half was a big challenge but they came through so they’re obviously mentally strong.

‘We’ve watched them and they’re a proper Spanish team with a lot of sharp, technical players who play very aggressively in getting after the ball. The variation of our programme has been a theme all season – one day we’re playing against Lincoln’s first team and the ball is hardly on the floor, then we’re going to Madrid to play the Champions League-type of game that we want our boys to be ready for. It's exciting and we're looking forward to it.’

The quarter-final tie takes place at the Alfredo di Stefano Stadium this afternoon (Wednesday). Kick-off is 3pm UK time and the game will be broadcast live on BT Sport 3 and uefa.com. There will be updates on our official @chelseafc Twitter. Action from the game will also be on Chelsea TV this evening.

 

- In other Academy news, forward Harvey St Clair has received a maiden call-up to the Scotland Under-21 squad ahead of their Euro qualifier against Andorra. The 19-year-old has represented Scotland previously at U16, U17 and U19 level.