Chelsea are on the verge of the UEFA Europa League final after coming from behind to draw 1-1 away at Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of their semi-final.
Pedro got the all-important away goal on the stroke of half time following Luka Jovic’s opener which had come midway through the first half and the Blues are now in control of the tie ahead of the second leg played at Stamford Bridge on Thursday evening.
With reports emerging that Maurizio Sarri was more interested in a top-four place than a European trophy, Eden Hazard was not selected in the starting XI which raised the eyebrows of the travelling Chelsea fans who could not understand why their star man was rested during a semi-final. He did eventually come off the bench following an hour amongst the substitutes.
The game started in a very even fashion as both sides enjoyed possession without either carving out any clear chances. Danny Da Costa had been the main outlet for the hosts in the opening exchanges but when his side broke the deadlock, the attack actually went down the opposite wing.
Olivier Giroud lost the ball in an advanced position and it found its way to the feet of Filip Kostić who bombed down the left-hand side, as he so often does, before aiming a cross towards the prolific Luka Jovic. He did what he does best and guided a fantastic header past Kepa for his 26th goal of the season to give Frankfurt a priceless lead.
The visitors were struggling to contend with the Bundesliga side in the cauldron-like atmosphere and all they could muster for most of the first half was Willian’s bending cross that almost crept into the bottom corner.
However, 10 minutes later, his side pulled level and it came from the hard work of `Ruben Loftus-Cheek who had just missed an opportunity himself. He powered through a number of opposing players and gave the ball to Pedro who wriggled free in the box and fired a low effort into the back of the net.
That is how the half ended and Chelsea could count themselves lucky to be on level terms after failing to trouble Kevin Trapp for 44 minutes.
It was a different story after the interval though as the away side started to put together some high-quality passing moves, one of which resulted in Loftus-Cheek firing over the crossbar just moments before David Luiz thundered a 35-yard free-kick onto the woodwork.
The Blues were in total control for the final half an hour and weren’t giving the hosts a second in possession. Giroud snatched a chance which went wide then Loftus-Cheek and Hazard both saw efforts deflected behind for corners.
The latter then sent a glorious cross into the centre of the penalty area where Luiz had found himself in acres of space only to head straight into the hands of Trapp. Not only was it a huge let off for Frankfurt but also a missed opportunity that could come back to haunt Chelsea if they fail to progress.
But after the Brazilian had his head in his hands for missing that big chance, his opposite number did the same. David Abraham somehow floated into the centre of the box unmarked but couldn’t keep what looked like a simple header under the bar. The fingers were being pointed in the Chelsea six-yard box but there were three or four home attackers who had run free of their markers.
N’Golo Kante then had to make amends for an almost catastrophic error as he handed Kostic the chance to run clean through on goal but the World Cup winner recovered immensely to win back the ball he had given away. That late rally from the German side panicked Sarri and his staff but their side held on for a vital 1-1 draw, meaning the tie is now in their hands ahead of the second leg at Stamford Bridge.