Olivier Giroud stars, David Luiz struggles as Chelsea advance to Europa League semis
Pedro scored twice to help Chelsea into the Europa League semifinals as 5-3 aggregate victors over Slavia Prague after a 4-3 win at Stamford Bridge on Thursday. On a day when his former club Napoli were eliminated, the win and progression preserves Maurizio Sarri's one remaining hope of winning silverware in his first season in England.
Chelsea set about their opponents with the speed, fluidity and intensity that Sarri wants to see in every match, and they were rewarded with a comfortable half-time lead that left their semifinal place in little doubt. There were no fresh injuries -- despite an early scare for Eden Hazard -- and Pedro was much improved
What does Sarri say to his players at half-time? This was another second half that Chelsea began in a complacent haze, allowing Slavia to transform what should have been a comfortable passage into the Europa League semifinals into a tense and tetchy finale.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Sarri's starting XI began this match with everything he wanted from them, and they did enough first-half damage to reasonably put the tie to bed. Chelsea's habit of collapsing immediately after half-time really doesn't reflect well on him, though, and is a trend he cannot afford in the coming weeks.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Kepa Arrizabalaga, 5 -- His tendency to punch high balls that would be easy to catch appears to unsettle those around him, and it certainly didn't ease the second-half anxiety at Stamford Bridge. He also was beaten too easily for Petr Sevcik's first goal, though he wasn't culpable for Slavia's other strikes.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 6 -- Chelsea's most solid defender on a far-from-solid evening, he can point to the fact that the majority of Slavia's most threatening moments happened on the other side of the pitch. Did his best to keep those around them from becoming too rattled -- with mixed success.
DF Andreas Christensen, 5 -- Handled the threat of Lukas Masopust reasonably well, but the movement of replacement Peter Olayinka caused him problems, along with Slavia's increasingly ambitious midfield runners. Sarri was visibly frustrated with his uncertainty at times.
DF David Luiz, 4 -- Had little to do as Chelsea dominated the first half, but when called upon to provide a steadying presence at the heart of the home defence in the absence of the injured Antonio Rudiger, he fell short of what was required. Also went close to conceding a penalty when he handled a high ball.
DF Emerson Palmieri, 5 -- Goalkeeper Ondrej Kudela had no idea what to do whenever he sprinted forward to overlap Hazard, and one such run enabled him to centre the ball for Pedro to score his second after Ondrej Kolar had parried Olivier Giroud's shot. Didn't get anywhere near close enough to Sevcik for either of his goals, though.
MF N'Golo Kante, 7 -- His surging runs and incisive passes carved the visitors open at will in the first half, with one clipped ball in from the right flank creating a promising opportunity that Ross Barkley couldn't maximise. There were fewer flashes of what he does best after the break, but this was still a good display.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 5 -- Distributed the ball well enough early on from the "Jorginho position" at the base of Sarri's midfield but shows few instincts when it comes to protecting his back four, contributing to Chelsea's startling vulnerability, as Slavia rallied behind Sevcik's shooting.
MF Ross Barkley, 6 -- Started brightly, shifting the ball sharply to Hazard in transition in the lead-up to Pedro's opener and looking to drive forward whenever he could. Could not steady Chelsea as they lost their way at the start of the second half, however, and was sacrificed for Jorginho on 70 minutes.
FW Pedro, 7 -- Has looked his age (31) in recent months but was considerably sparkier here, initiating slick one-twos with Cesar Azpilicueta and Giroud for Chelsea's opener and also netting their fourth. Also accidentally created Simon Deli's own goal with perhaps the worst finish of his career.
FW Olivier Giroud, 8 -- It's hard to see him getting his wish of being Chelsea's first-choice striker next season, but he did everything he could here to bolster his case. Aside from Europa League goal No. 10, there were all the slick lay-offs and smart hold-up play that make him so valuable to this team.
FW Eden Hazard, 7 -- Gave everyone at Stamford Bridge an early scare when he stayed down after being kicked twice in the first two minutes, but he picked himself up to involve himself in much of Chelsea's best attacking play. Was finally replaced by Willian on 65 minutes.
FW Willian, 7 -- Provided energy and defensive work rate in place of Hazard when Chelsea needed a bit more defensive stability, though none of his attacking contributions yielded anything significant.
MF Jorginho, N/R -- Once again harshly booed by sections of Stamford Bridge when he replaced Barkley, he put one or two passes astray but did OK.
FW Callum Hudson-Odoi, N/R -- His every touch was met with palpable anticipation, but this was not a memorable cameo.