Giroud’s second half strike and Chelsea’s day-glo orange socks were the only bright spots for them as thick fog engulfed their Europa League trip into Eastern Europe.
Belarusian minnows Bate hit the woodwork three times and missed an open goal as Chelsea’s defensive frailties were again exposed.
Giroud’s long-awaited goal seven minutes into the second half came just moments after normally ice-cool boss Maurizio Sarri went ballistic at his players from the technical area, as another opportunity to score was wasted by his off-colour stars.
At least for Giroud the outing to the back of beyond was worthwhile on a personal note; ending a 794 minutes wait to score for his club with a scruffy header.
It also means Chelsea have qualified for the last 32 of Europe’s B-list competition with two games to spare with a 100 per cent win rate so far.
Although to say they can now take it easy would suggest they had put in a shift in the first place.
The temperature plummeted to zero long before kick off which should have injected a little extra zip into the Chelsea players to keep out the Eastern European chill.
Wave after wave of thick mist continually rolled across the pitch.
While it made the view a little blurred from up in the stands there was no covering up a dreary first half performance from Sarri’s team, despite warnings from midfielder Mateo Kovacic in his media address the night before that they must stay focused.
INTERACTIVE STATS – CLICK on the categories to find out how the teams fared
The re-introduction of Eden Hazard for the playmaker’s first start in nearly three weeks added some spark but elsewhere in the Chelsea team there was an overriding sense of sluggishness.
For the first time this season they failed to register a shot on target in the first half.
Even their one serious threat on goal was accidental, when left back Emerson Palmieri’s cross was fumbled by the keeper and came close to squirming through his legs.
Hazard played an inspirational role in Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Crystal Palace last Sunday. Coming off the bench to lead his team out of the doldrums and onto three Premier League points after they had let the opposition back into the match.
It doesn’t take the little Belgian long to get back into his stride, even after a few weeks sidelined with a back injury, caused he claims by being roughed up by the opposition.
A minute or two before half time he provided a brief moment of magic too; collecting a through ball from Ross Barkley with his back to goal, spinning 180 degrees to set up for a shot, only to be tackled at the last second.
Kovacic also admitted Chelsea have remained unbeaten all season although being some way from their best as they settle into life under new boss Sarri, who joined in the summer to replace sacked Antonio Conte.
He was proved spot on here as Chelsea laboured along, enjoying plenty of possession but failing to cash in on their superiority in the crucial area.
Giroud’s last goal for his club came in a 1-0 win over Liverpool on May 6. The Frenchman won the World Cup in the summer without scoring for his country.
INTERACTIVE LINE-UPS– CLICK on a player’s number below to see their stats
This was his first appearance after ‘leg fatigue’ – knackered in other words. At 32, a World Cup means no proper rest in the summer and at his age recovery takes that bit longer.
He looked distinctly off target on his return. A yard off the pace and his aerial accuracy off beam.
And with Bate providing surprisingly stubborn and game it made for an uncomfortable night at both ends for the Premier League side at times.
Keeper Kepa was beaten by a sudden shot from outside the box by Dmitri Baga which emerged from the fog and smashed against his left hand post.
Baga’s next potshot in the second half, took a massive deflection to wrong foot Chelsea’s goalkeeper and crashed back to safety off the bar.
And better finishing would have given the Belarusian champions a deserved goal in the 66th minute when Aleksei Rios blasted over from close range.
Giroud finally nicked it when he headed down Palamier’s near post cross and the bounce beat the keeper – but this was still a fog-ettable (sic) performance.
Source: Read Full Article