Chelsea maintained their push towards another Europa League title with a 1-0 win over BATE Borisov thanks to a second-half goal from Olivier Giroud.
The target man’s first goal under Maurizio Sarri was enough to see off the plucky Belarusian side, securing the Blues’ progression to the last 32 of the competition in the process.
Goalless First Half
Eden Hazard returned to the starting XI as the visitors looked to keep up their 100% European record this season. Ruben Loftus-Cheek also came into the side as he so often does in the Europa League while Alvaro Morata dropped to the bench.
It was BATE who came closest to the opener as Baha rattled the woodwork from just outside the penalty area, a shot which had seemingly beaten Kepa. He was alert to keep out a header from a corner moments later though as the hosts looked the more likely to break the deadlock. Other than a half chance for Giroud which flew wide, the first half an hour didn’t look too promising for Chelsea.
The former Arsenal man enjoyed the only other sighting of goal for the visitors but it was no more than that, flicking Loftus-Cheek’s corner wide of the target. The referee blew for half-time after a rather uneventful 45 minutes.
Giroud Strikes Fast
Sarri’s team talk during the interval must’ve done wonders as it took his side little over five minutes to hit the front in the second period. Jorginho picked out Emerson’s bombing run and he clipped a cross in towards Giroud. The Frenchman did the rest, glancing a header inside the near post and past Denis Scherbitski in the BATE goal.
Chelsea were nearly pegged back within just 10 minutes as their opponents came within an inch of an equaliser. A patient, well-worked attacking move ended with Nikolai Signevich deflecting one of his team-mates’ scuffed efforts onto the crossbar. He then almost turned provider, pulling the back towards Aleksey Rios who lost all composure by firing well over the bar.
With the game exploding into life, Giroud could’ve easily netted a second. Pedro’s floated corner somehow found him completely unmarked on the penalty spot but his header was too central and well tipped over the top by Scherbitski. The Blues looked uncomfortable with just the one-goal lead and were given a major scare in the dying embers of the game.
A teasing corner from the home side alluded everyone in the box when a BATE header would’ve caused some serious problems. However, as it was flicked out to the edge of the area, an extremely well-struck volley slammed onto the post and was unconvincingly cleared by a cluster of Chelsea defenders.
Sarri’s men held on for another three points which ensured a place in the knockout stage but another 1-0 scoreline made for nervous viewing towards the end. If they are to seriously challenge for the trophy, they must improve their performance levels. They face Everton at Stamford Bridge on Sunday hoping to extend their unbeaten record.