Chelsea secured qualification to the round of 32 in the 2018/2019 Europa League season with a narrow 1-0 victory over BATE Borisov at the Borisov Arena in Belarus.
The victory was their fourth successive in the competition, and can confirm top spot in the group when PAOK visit Stamford Bridge later in the month.
The contest was the quintessential definition of ‘Thursday Night Football’, as it was lifeless and dour, with neither team providing real excitement.
Bate were more composed than when they visited the Bridge last month, and even though Chelsea had much of the possession, the Londoners failed to genuinely stamp their authority in the match, and never looked threatening enough to take the lead in the first half.
They finally got their breakthrough in the 52nd minute, and held on to their lead to seal their qualification. We present five talking points from the Europa League encounter in Belarus.
#5 Eden Hazard back to the fold
Hazard has been one of the brightest lights in world football over the last six months, putting the disappointment of last season behind him to captain Belgium to their best ever finish at a World Cup with his Silver Ball winning display.
He was heavily linked with Real Madrid as Ronaldo’s replacement, but as those rumors amounted to naught, and he settled on the task at hand, which was delivering his utmost for Chelsea.
Long chided for his non-productivity in the final third, Eden Hazard has exploded into form this season, as he has benefitted from the extra space afforded him by Maurizio Sarri, which goes in stark contrast to the more confining roles under his two previous managers at Chelsea.
The result has been spectacular, as Hazard has had a phenomenal start to life under the Italian, and is the focal point of Chelsea’s attacks.
The 28-year-old has made the best goalscoring start to a season in his career, and sits joint-top of the Premier League scorer’s chart with seven goals from just 10 matches, while also chipping in with four assists.
The 2015 PFA Player of the Year picked up a minor back injury towards the end of last month which halted his momentum, as he got sidelined for Chelsea’s next two matches, but he returned against Crystal Palace at the weekend, coming off the bench to provide an assist for Chelsea’s third goal.
He started for the first time in two weeks against BATE, and for the entire duration of his stay on the pitch, he was the creative spark for Chelsea until his departure in the 61st minute. This would come as good news to Chelsea fans, as the Belgian is already the forerunner to be named PFA Player of the Year this season, and he is crucial to everything Sarri’s men hope to achieve this season.