Chelsea 3 Bate Borisov 1
If it is possible to advance claims for a Premier League place by helping to suppress severely limited opponents, then Ruben Loftus-Cheek did exactly that here, scoring all three goals as Chelsea sauntered to victory over Bate Borisov. The hat-trick leaves his club well on course for the next stage of the Europa League, with maximum points from their three group games so far.
The outcome of this match was never in doubt but Maurizo Sarri will be irritated by the way his side nodded off late-on to allow Aleksei Rios pull back a goal for the visitors.
Unbeaten under Sarri going into the game, Chelsea were not expected to encounter any misfortune in the Italian’s 13th competitive match in charge. Bate may be on course for a 13th consecutive Belarusian title, but there was nothing to suggest they had the pedigree to win here.
Their most recent game in the Europa League had ended in a 4-1 home defeat to PAOK of Salonika, one of the two group rivals sides already beaten by Chelsea, and their only previous trip to London led to a 6-0 demolition by Arsenal last season.
Olivier Giroud was among the scorers back then and he aimed to inflict more damage on Bate here as he was included in the starting line-up ahead of Álvaro Morata. That was one of eight alterations that Sarri made to the side who began the Premier League draw with Manchester United, Mateo Kovacic, Willian and goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga being the only survivors.
Eden Hazard, watching in civvies from the stands, was out because of back trouble but the other changes were due to the manager's desire to keep his squad as fresh as possible and not, he insisted, because he was taking the tournament lightly.
This, he has said since the start of the campaign, is a competition he wants to win and he demanded to see an improvement, even with a reserve line-up. “After Saturday’s game against Manchester United we know we have work to do to reach the level we are aiming for – we did not play as well as we want.”
Chelsea's midfield included Cesc Fàbregas, who got to renew acquaintances with a former Arsenal team-mate Aleksandr Hleb, who began in the middle for Bate. At 37, Hleb is the same age as their manager, Aleksei Baga, whose younger brother Dmitri also featured in the visitors' midfield.
Hleb had joked during the build-up that he would take advantage of the encounter to land a crafty punch on his old mucker. It turned out Bate struggled to get within touching distance of their opponents and it took Chelsea less than two minutes to strike the first blow. It was lamentably easy.
Davide Zappacosta scurried down the right and aimed a low cross towards the penalty spot, where Loftus-Cheek was free to sweep it into the net for his first goal of the season.
He got his second six minutes later, redirecting Willian’s outswinging corner into the net from the edge of the six-yard box. He has been frustrated at his lack of playing time in the Premier League this season – having been given only 33 minutes so far – but this was an impressive way to push for more opportunities.
Chelsea, meanwhile, pushed for more goals. Pedro had a shot deflected just wide and a header by Gary Cahill was cleared off the line. Then Kovacic stabbed wide from close range after beautiful work on the left by Emerson and Willian. Chelsea's skill and mesmeric interplay were far too much for the visitors. It seemed the only possible risk was that their superiority might lull them into sloppiness.
A careless pass by Fàbregas led to Bate’s only chance of the first half, a long-range effort by Hleb that was blocked by Cahill. Sensing a dip in his team’s intensity, Sarri looked vexed on the sideline. But Willian continued to delight, except when he overhit a pass that would have put Giroud clean through. Then Loftus-Cheek headed wide after a cross from Pedro. Bate could be relieved to reach half-time just two down.
Nine minutes into the second half Loftus-Cheek completed his hat-trick with a precise side-foot finish from 20 yards after the ball broke to him following a run by Pedro. "He's one of our own," chanted the jubilant home crowd. Amid the celebrations Marco Ianni, the coach who riled José Mourinho on Saturday, sat in the dugout, on his best behaviour. The cheers from the crowd grew even louder on the hour, when the gifted 17-year-old Callum Hudson-Odoi was introduced for his first appearance of the season.
Denis Scherbitski made a superb one-handed save to foil Giroud in the 72nd minute before Bate earned a moment of joy at the other end, Rios stealing in at the back post to turn in a free kick by Igor Stasevich. - Guardian