Wednesday 21 November 2018

Relief for Sarri as 'useful' Giroud finds range right on cue

Bate Borisov 0 Chelsea 1

Teammates congratulate teammate Oliver Giroud after he scored for Chelsea. Photo: AP/Sergei Grits
Teammates congratulate teammate Oliver Giroud after he scored for Chelsea. Photo: AP/Sergei Grits

Jack Pitt-Brooke

It has been a painful wait of 794 minutes, back to the days when Antonio Conte was prowling Chelsea's technical area, but Olivier Giroud has finally scored again.

Giroud's first goal at club level since May was enough to lighten manager Maurizio Sarri's mood and guarantee Chelsea a place in the Europa League's last 32 next year.

Chelsea's Willian jumps to avoid a collision with Bate goalkeeper Denis Scherbitski. Photo: AP
Chelsea's Willian jumps to avoid a collision with Bate goalkeeper Denis Scherbitski. Photo: AP

Sarri was struggling with a fever in the freezing fog of Borisov and frustrated with his team's performance, despite extending his unbeaten run to 17 games with a fourth successive victory in Group L.

It was far from comfortable with BATE Borisov striking the woodwork three times while Sarri was forced to play Eden Hazard for longer than he anticipated.

Hazard was only supposed to appear for 50 minutes, yet played for an hour in what was another performance of menace.

Sarri appeared on edge throughout the evening but Giroud's winner, a powerful header early in the second half, spared Chelsea's squad from a more severe inquest.

Bate's Zakhar Volkov lies on the pitch after being fouled. Photo: AP
Bate's Zakhar Volkov lies on the pitch after being fouled. Photo: AP

"The best situation this evening is the result," said the Chelsea manager.

"It wasn't very easy to play a good game here.

"There were only conditions to play very badly - for the cold, the opponents, the pitch, for everything. But we could have done better.

"I'm pleased for Giroud, he's a very important player for us. I don't want him to be worried about scoring because he's very useful."

Hazard is also crucial, after overcoming a back injury, and watching him play in the Europa League feels like Laurence Olivier performing in a Christmas panto.

He is incongruous with the competition, operating on an infinitely higher plane than his opponents and arguably wasted on what is European football's wooden spoon.

Almost every touch, every shimmy and pass here was dipped in gold and while he was only on the field for 61 minutes, with him anything is possible for Chelsea this season.

He was applauded by both sets of fans when he was replaced by Willian.

Chelsea did endure some scares in bitterly conditions, despite dominating possession for much of the evening.

Dmitri Baga struck the post with a shot from 25 yards in the 12th minute and then 60 seconds later Chelsea goalkeeper Kepe produced a fine save to deny Stanislav Dragun.

Giroud's header in the 52nd minute provided the breakthrough and should have paved the way for a more comfortable night.

Emerson Palmeiri advanced down the left flank and sent in a tantalising cross which Giroud met at the near post, heading past Denis Scherbitski.

The only surprise about the goal was that Hazard was not involved.

There was drama in added time when substitute Evgeni Berezkin struck the inside of the post with a volley, but Sarri's mission to reach the knockout stage is now complete. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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