Olivier Giroud lifts the fog with Chelsea winner in Belarus
French striker had endured almost 800 minutes of scoreless football for the club
Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring in the Europa League game against Bate Borisov at the Borisov Arena in Barysaw, Belarus. Photograph: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
Bate Borisov 0 Chelsea 1
For Chelsea this was mission accomplished, perhaps not convincingly but still with plenty to spare. Maurizio Sarri’s team remain unbeaten in competitive action under his stewardship, which feels mildly remarkable in November and, with two group games still to play, have maintained a perfect record in this group to progress into the knock-out phase in February. The Italian may have been dissatisfied with aspects of this performance, but he could not have asked for more from the outcome.
It was Olivier Giroud, a player who has laboured in front of goal this season, who secured their passage into the last 32 with a second-half header to break his own duck for a stop-start campaign.
The French striker had endured 794 minutes of scoreless football for the club, stretching back to the solitary goal against Liverpool in the first week of May, prior to this winner. Given that Álvaro Morata has flickered back to life of late, Giroud’s own reward felt timely. Chelsea will need options for the fixture pile-up to come.
The freezing fog, rolling in out of the dense forests around Barysaw, had made this an inhospitable occasion long before the locals launched into their raucous racket aimed at inspiring their own.
Bate certainly offered more resistance than they had back at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago, and their whirlwind opening might have yielded an early lead while Chelsea were still finding some rhythm.
Yet Dmitri Braga’s drive from 25 yards, startling Kepa Arrizabalaga as it swirled out of the murk, left the post quivering, with the goalkeeper well placed to deny Nikolai Signevich’s close-range header from the resultant corner. It would not be the only time the home side would strike the woodwork.
Sarri’s frustration at the start was at least transmitted to his players from the sidelines, with the visitors stirred into something approaching action and enjoying a near monopoly of possession thereafter.
Yet too much of the approach play ran aground at the last. There were occasional flashes of quality, from the progressive Ross Barkley or the overlapping Davide Zappacosta, to the close control of Pedro or Eden Hazard.
The latter’s previous involvement in this competition this term had amounted to a 36-minute rescue operation against Vidi early last month, with this a first start in almost three weeks after back trouble. It was his corner that Giroud, rising in the centre, guided marginally wide of the far post.
Yet that attempt was as close as the visitors came to forcing a lead in that slog of a first period – Chelsea had never previously failed to register a shot on target in a first half under Sarri – and the players had surely retired to be told by their head coach how inadequate the display had been.
His mood had hardly improved on the resumption, the Italian hopping with rage at each overhit free-kick or stunted attack until, finally, one of his players measured a final pass precisely.
It was Emerson Palmieri, so attack-minded down the left, who supplied the pass, whipping a centre towards the near post where Giroud leapt to connect. The World Cup winner’s header bounced down and up over Denis Scherbitski’s attempt to save, and Chelsea had the advantage they had craved.
That should have been that given how dominant the Premier League side were in control of possession, with Hazard – only ever scheduled to play a half here – duly hauled off just after the hour-mark.
But the goal actually served to open the contest up at both ends. Scherbitski conjured saves from Barkley and Giroud while Bate, benefiting from Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s brief bout of sloppiness, were left cursing as Stanislav Dragun’s optimistic shot was deflected on to the crossbar by Signevich with Kepa helpless.
The goalkeeper would have struggled to deny Aleksei Rios moments later, too, only for the defender to panic at Signevich’s cut-back, the shot ending up among Chelsea’s hardy support behind the goal.
The last scare was reserved for stoppage time, when the home side forced a corner and, with the visitors confused, the substitute Evgeni Berezkin repeated Braga’s trick from the first half and thrashed a shot on to the bar with Kepa beaten.
Somehow the loose ball was scrambled away, with the final whistle, seconds later, prompting relief and progress. - Guardian