Chelsea FC became the second winners of the UEFA Youth League, losing only once on their way to a deserved title in Nyon.
Not only did the Blues boast the strongest defence in the tournament, they vaunted a perilous attack which netted at least two goals in all games bar one on their road to glory, totalling 36. With tournament top scorer Dominic Solanke grabbing 12 of those, it was an all-round emphatic performance from the first English winners of the competition.
"We follow in the footsteps of an outstanding Barcelona team last year – we are worthy winners," said triumphant coach Adi Viveash. Worthy for the way in which they dealt with a variety of different systems and styles – from FC Zenit in the round of 16 to Club Atlético de Madrid in the quarter-finals and a defensive AS Roma in the last four.
"You learn a lot from trying to deal with all these different styles and cultures – you don't get that domestically," Viveash explained, extolling the diversity of a competition which he believes will do a great deal for the development of all those involved.
That was also evident in the way FC Shakhtar Donetsk grew from game to game, showing resolve in two penalty shoot-out wins in the knockout stages before coming from behind to oust RSC Anderlecht in a stunning semi-final.
The Ukrainian side earned plenty of fans for their determined, well-structured game with a team made up 100% of Ukrainian talent. They were unbeaten right the way through to the final act, when they ultimately came undone. "Chelsea are worthy champions," conceded coach Valeriy Kryventsov.
As in the first edition, the UEFA Youth League participants were the respective Under-19 sides of the clubs participating in the UEFA Champions League. Travelling with the first teams around the continent, they got a taste of what many hope to experience again in their professional futures.
The groups mirrored those of the UEFA Champions League, with the group winners and runners-up progressing to a round of 16 which could hardly have been tighter. Half of the eight ties were decided on penalties – including Roma's win against AFC Ajax and Shakhtar's triumph over Olympiacos FC. Anderlecht eliminated the holders, Barcelona, underlining the pedigree which was to take them to the Nyon finals.
The biggest winners at that stage, perhaps unsurprisingly, were Chelsea, who then followed up their 3-1 defeat of Zenit with a 2-0 victory over Atlético in the last eight. Anderlecht built on their eye-catching win against the holders by putting five past Porto with no reply – a game played in front of a tournament record 13,162 fans at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium in Brussels.
Their reward was a place in the final stage in Nyon, and with 15 minutes of their semi-final clash with Shakhtar remaining, it seemed like they would be going all the way. They had not counted on Shakhtar super-sub Viktor Kovalenko entering to turn the game around dramatically, however, as the Ukrainians progressed to the decider with a 3-1 success.
Chelsea struggled against a very disciplined Roma side before an early goal in the second half of their semi-final tie unlocked the door, with the Italians capitulating as a second and third soon followed. The final score was 4-0, Chelsea underlining their credentials in style.
The final act saw Shakhtar respond to an early setback, in their habitual style, but a customary early second-half goal and a more dominant Chelsea performance saw them through to the title, winning 3-2 in spite of a late Kovalenko consolation.
"My players, for the rest of their lives, will remember that they were Youth League winners," said Viveash at the end of a memorable tournament.
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