Chelsea were back in Europa League action on Thursday night, as they faced Slavia Prague in their quarter-final first leg. The Blues travelled to the Czech Republic in high spirits, following their superb 2-0 derby win over West Ham on Monday. With Slavia Prague in top form and playing the first leg at home, it wasn’t going to be easy for Chelsea.
There was little to complain about Maurizio Sarri’s team selection, despite the absence of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi. There were seven changes from Monday’s win, including the return of the competition’s top scorer Olivier Giroud. Marcos Alonso and Andreas Christensen returned in defence, while Sarri opted to rest Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kanté.
Chelsea had very few opportunities overall, with Willian’s curling effort smashing the crossbar the closest they came in the first half. Petr Sevcik and Vladimir Coufal had good chances for the hosts, as the first half ended goalless. As the second half began, Chelsea had a burst of big chances in a matter of minutes. Antonio Rüdiger and Willian were both denied, while Kepa Arrizabalaga saved well on several occasions to preserve his clean sheet. The Blues found the back of the net in the 79th minute, but Jorginho’s goal was disallowed due to Giroud being offside in the build up. Arrizabalaga continued to be called into action in a busy second half, denying Jan Boril and Simon Deli.
Chelsea finally broke the deadlock with four minutes to go, as Marcos Alonso headed home Willian’s delightful cross to snatch the win from the hosts. It was a hard fought victory from the Blues, as they take a massive lead back to the Bridge.
Chelsea weren’t at their best, and were second best for the majority of the game. It had been a frustrating evening in Prague, shown by the eventual introduction of Hazard, Kanté and Loftus-Cheek in an effort to save the game. Nevertheless they got the job done, and secured a vital win. It makes the second leg a whole lot easier for Sarri, as they triumphed in a hard fought affair.
Slavia Prague will feel massively hard done by, but produced a superb performance. They outclassed the Blues all game long and dominated them, and were unlucky not to capitalise on their chances. Though they are now behind in a tie and have given up an away goal, it is far from over and they will certainly travel to London with every hope of progressing to the semi-finals. There were very few strong performers on the night, though Alonso and Willian deserve their credit for the crucial goal. My man of the match was Kepa Arrizabalaga, whose second half performance was absolutely pivotal in Chelsea’s win. Had he not pulled off a string of excellent saves to keep the game goalless, the Blues may not have kept their momentum that led to the winning goal.
Chelsea are at Anfield next, as they face a huge trip to Liverpool on Sunday afternoon. They return to the Bridge next Thursday for the conclusion of tonight’s tie, as they host Slavia Prague in the second leg.
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