Chelsea make heavy weather of it before edging home
Chelsea 1 MOL Vidi 0
A much-needed goal for Alvaro Morata was enough to ensure Chelsea have maximum points from their opening two Europa League games.
It was only the Spaniard’s second goal of a campaign in which he has struggled, and leaves the Blues where they need to be ahead of a double-header with BATE Borisov.
Maurizio Sarri made eight changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Liverpool at the weekend and the lack of cohesion was the inevitable consequence. Indeed, it needed one of the trio of remainers - Kepa Arrizabalaga - to be sharp to ensure it was not a night of embarrassment. Twice he made good saves during the second half.
The team as a whole failed to fully ignite and it looked as if it would be another of those miserable nights for the struggling Morata in particular, who somehow contrived to fire wide, with the goal at his mercy, during a tepid opening half.
He was also repeatedly roughed up by Vidi skipper Roland Jahasz – a no-nonsense stopper for the Hungarian champions who often favoured elbows rather than ball skills, whenever crosses were fired towards the striker.
But the last word went to Morata, who was on hand to lash home from close range after Cesc Fabregas – who otherwise had a quiet match – lifted a perfectly-weighted ball for Willian to flick on with his head into the six-yard box.
That moment, and a lively cameo from sub Ross Barkley, perhaps rejuvented by an England recall, was about as good as it got for the Blues, who saw plenty of the ball but failed to trouble keeper Tomas Tujvel often enough.
Barkley was testing the keeper within moments of coming on and nodded an Eden Hazard free-kick against the bar from close in.
The very fact that Hazard was needed at all spoke volumes. He should have been having the night off, but Sarri felt the need to bring him off the bench for Pedro – to much applause – as early as the 54th minute. That was a sure sign of how difficult Chelsea found it to get going.
The consolation for them is that they may not have to do too much to progress to the knock-out stages of this elongated competition and it will give an opportunity for fringe players to feature. Not than any of them made unanswerable cases for future inclusion in the starting XI.
Line up: Arrizabalaga – Zappacosta, Christensen, Cahill, Emerson – Kovacic, Fabregas, Loftus-Cheek (Barkley 66) – Pedro (Hazard 54), Morata, Willian (Moses 74). Subs not used: Caballero, Alonso, Kante, Ampadu.