Chelsea started their 2018/19 UEFA Europa League campaign in the best possible way with a 1-0 win over PAOK in Greece. A goal in the seventh minute from Willian was enough to secure three points which extends the Blues winning run to six games from the beginning of the Premier League season.
Blues Strike Fast
Ross Barkley and Alvaro Morata were the two most notable returning players to the starting XI and in the absence of Cesar Azpilicueta, the captain’s armband was handed to Willian. The Brazilian repaid Maurizio Sarri’s faith within minutes of kick-off as he opened the scoring following a direct, powerful run through midfield from Barkley. Willian’s shot squirmed under the body of the PAOK keeper when it should’ve really been kept out.
Morata had a few sightings of goal after the goal, he missed a header that should’ve found the net before latching onto Antonio Rudiger’s fantastic ball only to send his left-footed effort wide. Chelsea’s dominance was clear and it seemed as though it’d only be a matter of time before they scored a second but it failed to come with the Spanish frontman missing more chances.
As he so often does, Willian was dictating the pace of a European game and was far too hot to handle for the hosts. His blind pass found Marcos Alonso out wide who found Pedro perfectly but the former Barcelona forward failed to properly test the keeper, making it a fairly routine stop.
The half drew to a climax and the only shock was that the visitors weren’t more than one goal to the good after missing a host of shots in the opening 45 minutes.
More chances but no more goals
Willian was the beneficiary of the second half’s first two openings but his first was easy for the keeper and his second blazed over the crossbar. Alonso then saw a shot blocked and it began to seem like one of those days for Chelsea where they’d fail to assert their dominance.
Fortunately, the Greek side’s creativity was non-existent and they hadn’t had so much of a sniff in or around the Blues penalty area. Morata then finally saw one of his shots find the back of the net but unfortunately for the ex-Juventus man, he had strayed marginally offside.
Complacency then started to kick in for the visitors as they started to make some questionable decisions and lost any ounce of cutting edge they had shown in the PAOK half. Kepa was forced into potentially his first save of the match as he touched a dangerous-looking cross over the bar and out for a corner. The young Spaniard was tested again but it was a comfortable stop from out wide on the left.
With the game fizzling out from there, it was an easy win that was made to look much harder by the scoreline. Against inferior opposition, the Blues might be able to get away with squandering so many chances but when it comes to the bigger sides in the Europa League, it won’t be as easy. Maurizio Sarri will be pleased with what he saw but he’ll be disappointed at the lack of goals.