The weekend’s disappointment at Liverpool was buried entirely as Chelsea prevailed to the semi-finals of the Europa League after a less than convincing 4-3 victory over Slavia Prague (5-3 on aggregate).
Perdro shone with two goals in the first half which - accompanied by one from Olivier Giroud and an unlikely own goal - was just enough to see the Blues through to the next round.
Chelsea went stronger than they did in the first-leg and how they needed it. Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante were in from the very start as too was the top scorer of the competition Giroud. Without question, Maurizio Sarri took nothing likely with just the away goal to go on prior to the match.
Story of the match
Chelsea could not have started the game any better. They doubled their advantage in the tie inside the first five minutes; Pedro started and finished a considered and fine piece of play involving Giroud and Cesar Azpilicueta. The three drifted between the back-line and weaved the ball before the Spaniard lopped the ball over Ondrej Kolar.
It was two after another five minutes. As he often has been in this campaign, Giroud was involved after combining well with Hazard who laid the ball square across to Pedro who managed to hit the post from no further than two yards. Stamford Bridge was in disbelief… as too was Simon Deli who could do nothing but watch the ball as it rebounded off the post onto his head and into the back of the net to give Chelsea a comical second goal of the game.
Chelsea were making a habit of scoring every five minutes when Pedro was then given the freedom of West London to pick-out Giroud who calmly slotted the ball into the net on his weaker foot to reach double figures for the competition.
The travelling supporters were given prompts to wave their red and white scarves when captain Tomas Soucek headed in to make it 3-1. 60 seconds later though, and the scarves were wrapped back around the necks as Pedro found space at the back post to restore Chelsea’s three-goal lead in the match with under half an hour of action.
Chelsea, however, didn’t start the second half as well as they did the first. Slavia Prague made it 4-2 after Petr Sevcik’s long-range effort caught Kepa Arrizabalaga completely off guard. Soon after, it was 4-3. Sevcik hit another - more spectacular - strike into the top right corner to stun Stamford Bridge.
Despite a considerable amount of Czech Republican pressure, Chelsea were able to hold on and win the tie deservedly.
Jorginho or Kante… or Kovacic?
The Italian midfielder has been a sure favourite of Sarri’s after having coached him at Napoli. His absence from the squad was a somewhat surprise for many.
However, Kante’s role that he so superbly filled in seasons prior was vacated by Mateo Kovacic instead. Whilst not appealing directly to the Frenchman’s main strengths, there is no question that he fulfilled the more progressive role well (as he has done all season).
Kante was superb at maintaining possession and fulfilled the creative role well; it was his defence-splitting pass that all but set up Giroud’s simple finish. Jorginho was forced into play with 20 minutes remaining to restore Chelsea’s possession when Slavia Prague threatened to mount a comeback.
Pedro was magic
This was the kind of Pedro performance to remind Chelsea supporters just how good he can be. In truth, he is inconsistent and doesn’t produce the same quality as much as he probably could.
He was directly involved in all of Chelsea’s four goals in the first half. If indeed Chelsea’s transfer ban remains to stand, Pedro could play a big part in the seasons to come. His experience as a winger at the highest level will serve younger players like Callum Hudson-Odoi well in the foreseeable future.
The future is Frankfurt
In the semi-final, the Blues will face the German outfit after they came back from a 4-2 home-leg defeat to Benfica. They, like Chelsea, are in a race to finish in the top four. They have been revitalised in recent years and currently sit fourth in the Bundesliga.