Late goal papers over average performance
Chelsea left it late to secure a 1-0 win in their UEFA Europa League Quarter-Final first leg at Slavia Prague.
Marcos Alonso timed his run perfectly to meet Willian’s right-wing cross with a firm header four minutes from time in the Czech Republic.
Maurizio Sarri’s much-roatated side struggled to find any rhythm for large spells, but grew into the game after Eden Hazard was introduced off the bench just before the hour mark.
Chelsea were very sloppy in possession and didn’t offer much going forward from pretty much the start as Sarri made seven changes from Monday’s dominant victory over West Ham in the Premier League, with Sunday’s huge clash against Liverpool clearly in mind.
The Blues’ only genuine chance in the first half fell to Willian as he struck the bar after cutting onto his right foot on the edge of the box.
The second half was a marginal improvement as Chelsea came out with a sense of importance about them and it started to show (in certain moments) why they’re the superior side.
Antonio Rudiger registered their first shot on target in the 59th minute, just moments after Hazard made his appearance at the Eden Arena.
The Belgian was influential as Chelsea played with more intensity and posed more of a threat, while Willian went close to giving them the lead when he shot narrowly wide after a neat one-two with Olivier Giroud.
Left-back Alonso had a poor game – which is nothing new as of late – but popped up with a late run into the area to stun the home crowd and head back to Stamford Bridge for the second leg next week with a slender advantage.
Possession (%) – Slavia Prague 43%, Chelsea 57%
Shots – Slavia Prague 9, Chelsea 8
Shots on Target – Slavia Prague 3, Chelsea 2
Corners – Slavia Prague 7, Chelsea 4
Fouls – Slavia Prague 16, Chelsea 9
Offsides – Slavia Prague 2, Chelsea 2
Yellow/Red Cards – Slavia Prague 1/0, Chelsea 0/0
(Bonus Stat) 1 – Chelsea remain the only side to still be unbeaten in the Europa League this season.
• First-half was woeful, second-half was better (but not by a lot)
• Kepa literally saved us tonight. A clean sheet stayed in-tact pretty much down to him.
• So dependent we’ve become on Hazard it is almost embarrassing.
• We have a lead, but still need the best XI to start next week.
Chelsea Player/Manager Ratings
Kepa – 9, MOTM. Thank whoever is holy that we spent £71.6m on him last summer. He literally SAVED us in the game tonight with his shotstopping. Still needs to improve on his presence in the penalty area for me.
Azpilicueta – 6, Decent defensively, but provided nothing going forward.
Rudiger – 6, Unlucky with his chance in the second half and was okay from a defensive perspective. But nothing else really to write home about.
Christensen – 7, Started off a bit sloppy but grew into the game and his composure when Slavia Prague were on top greatly helped in the defensive third.
Alonso – 6, His rating is only this high solely due to scoring the late winner. Besides the goal, did absolutely nothing.
Kovačić – 5, Didn’t get started at all. Gave the ball away far too easily and far too often, no support to defence or attack and simply let the game pass him by.
Jorginho – 5, A rare day off for the first time in recent memory for the Italian international. No support, no space created for him to provide the distribution and not able to stamp his authority in the game.
Barkley – 5, The exact same as Kovacic.
Pedro – 5, Very poor display from the Spaniard. Hanging onto the ball for far too long, running around in circles, not offering a good output from an attacking perspective… we have to move him on in the summer.
Giroud – 6, Very isolated all game and no chances created for him to capitalise on. Work-rate is unquestioned however.
Willian – 6, A typical Willian performance. Brief moments of genuine talent on show (shot hitting the crossbar, assist for Alonso’s goal) combined with giving the ball away and throwing strops for when he does so. Seen this performance from the Brazilian far too often now.
Hazard (58′ for Pedro) – 7, Offered more in the half-hour or so he was on than any other outfield player that played the whole 90 minutes.
Kanté (68′ for Kovačić) – 6, Offered a decent amount of disciplined support to the team in his 20-minute cameo.
Loftus-Cheek (75′ for Barkley) – 7, Showed glimpses of what he can offer to the team and provided space and openings in the time he was on the pitch.
Maurizio Sarri – 7, Made the changes once again (as promised) as he clearly sees Liverpool as an important game. I can’t blame him for tonight’s abject display as this was clearly a player issue and not a managerial one. Thankfully we got a positive result and the go-to players should still be fresh and ready to go for Sunday.