Álvaro Morata finds goal touch again as Chelsea edge past Vidi
Maurizio Sarri’s much-changed side struggled to break down Hungarian visitors
Alvaro Morata scores for Chelsea in the Europa League Group L match against Vidi FC at Stamford Bridge. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Chelsea 1 Vidi FC 0
Álvaro Morata puffed out his cheeks and tried to muster a smile. He had provided the game’s decisive moment and his grateful team-mates ran to congratulate him after his poacher’s finish. Yet his overriding emotion was clearly relief rather than elation and his struggle to enjoy the moment rather summed up the occasion.
This game had threatened to become an ordeal for Chelsea before Morata’s late winner allowed them to maintain control of their Europa League group with a slender win over Vidi. They even turned to Eden Hazard in the second half before Morata scored his first goal since August. Even then, however, Maurizio Sarri’s side almost threw away their lead when Istvan Kovacs forced Kepa Arrizabalaga to make a fine late save.
This was the first time Stamford Bridge had witnessed a game in this competition since 2013 and perhaps it was inevitable that Chelsea found it difficult to impress against opponents who were content to sit deep, put numbers behind the ball and play on the counterattack.
Sarri, who could be seen chatting with David Luiz on the touchline 20 minutes before kick-off, made eight changes after last weekend’s intense draw with Liverpool and that resulted in the hosts playing like strangers during the first half, to the extent that they might even have trailed at the interval.
Chelsea were certainly relieved that Miroslav Zelinka, the Czech referee, chose not to penalise Gary Cahill when he appeared to bring Boban Nikolov down on the edge of the area. The Vidi striker had run clear of his markers and the away bench leapt up to protest as Cahill went to ground in an attempt to win the ball. They could not believe it when their appeals for a free-kick and a possible red card for the Chelsea defender fell on deaf ears.
In fairness, Chelsea also had a reason to feel aggrieved at the end of the opening period. Ruben Loftus-Cheek looked determined to impress on his first start of the season and the England midfielder raised the temperature with a lightning burst into the area shortly before half-time. Paulo Vinicius had a hold on Loftus-Cheek’s shirt and the Vidi centre back was fortunate not to concede a penalty.
By then, however, sloppiness had started to infect Chelsea’s play. Vidi had offered little for long spells but the Hungarian champions went close to snatching a shock lead when indecision between Kepa and Andreas Christensen almost allowed Loic Nego to prod home a loose ball. Nego would also threaten after dribbling inside from the right, only to scuff a shot straight at Kepa.
However, that miss was not as bad as Morata’s in the 16th minute. Pedro, causing problems with his direct running on the right, carved Vidi open with a deft pass that left Morata with only Tomas Tujvel, the away goalkeeper, to beat. Yet Morata’s difficulties in front of goal were encapsulated by the way he fluffed his lines. The Spaniard appeared to have a sizeable target to hit and some members of the crowd were even celebrating as the ball left the striker’s foot. Yet those cheers turned to jeers as the ball sailed wide. Sarri could not believe it.
Chelsea had not anticipated the evening turning into such a grind. They had dominated the early stages, pinning Vidi pack with sharp passing and slick movement, and there were moments when a breakthrough felt inevitable.
Cesc Fàbregas was pulling the strings in the deep-lying role normally occupied by Jorginho, and Emerson Palmieri and Davide Zappacosta, Chelsea’s full backs, did not have to spend much time in their own half.
Emerson, dashing inside from the left, was disappointed to aim too high after a weaving run in the eighth minute, and Willian, twisting and turning to shake off his markers, had the ball whipped off his toes just when he seemed poised to fire past Tujvel.
Yet Chelsea’s momentum faded after Morata’s miss and they were indebted to Kepa’s quick reflexes when Nego threatened with a fierce drive at the start of the second half. Having crept into the contest, Vidi were starting to believe that an upset was possible.
Marko Nikilic’s players were competing well and they could take it as a compliment when Sarri introduced Hazard in the 55th minute. For Chelsea, however, this was not part of the plan. The crowd roared as Hazard made his entrance but Sarri was entitled to feel that his squad players ought to have been talented enough to cope.
Even more worryingly for Sarri, Hazard’s arrival did not lead to an improvement at first. Vidi continued to threaten on the break and Loftus-Cheek’s influence had waned by the time he made way for Ross Barkley.
Yet Chelsea would finally break through the 70th minute. Fàbregas chipped a pass into the area, Willian flicked a header into the six-yard box and Morata, who had just been booked for dissent, darted to the near post to smash the bouncing ball past Tujvel. He had made amends, not that he looked too happy. - Guardian