Chelsea progressed to the last sixteen of the Europa league after a convincing and much needed win at home to Malmo in the second leg of the last thirty-two tie at Stamford Bridge on Thursday night.
Heading into the second leg Chelsea led 2-1, but this didn’t prevent Malmo from sitting deep and trying to play on the counter attack.
The visitors lined up in a 3-5-2 system which for the most part resembled a back five as Chelsea dominated possession. The visitors forced the first chance of the night, however. An on-going problem for Chelsea continues to rear its head as was demonstrated by the opening exchanges. Azpilicueta was caught out of position on the right as we lost the ball in transition. This forced Rudiger to pull wide to engage the Malmo wing back. The switch of play to the other side left the Chelsea back line out of shape, but on this occasion, trouble was everted. The visitors started brightly and mustered the opening chance when a free kick on the left side was cleared to the right wing where the driven cross back in was met by Bengtsson who arguably should have netted.
Malmo played a high press throughout the first half which at times we struggled to play around. On a couple of occasions, they forced us into turning over possession around our own penalty area. Should we have been able to negotiate it there was however space to be exploited wide, particularly if using our full backs Emerson and Azpilicueta. With Malmo’s three-man midfield forced to shuffle across to pick up the full backs when they overlapped, on the occasions that they pressed high diagonal balls hit from Kovacic released Emerson into space down the left, and a 2v1 situation that he and Willian could exploit. In the first half we didn’t use the ball well enough though and our midfielders were spectators. When we did get possession further up field and the visitors sat in, they dropped both of their forwards back to help pick up the spare midfielder when one of their central three was pulled wide to either of our full backs. An inability to get Barkley or Kante on the ball between the lines meant few chances were created.
Isolating their wing backs and/or the back three was the key. Hudson-Odoi did this down the right and used the overlap of Kante to good effect. His cross was headed over by Giroud.
Chelsea poor ball usage meant we weren’t exposing the visitors as much in wide areas as we should have been, and poor decision making continued into our own third of the pitch. A diagonal ball hit towards the right edge of our own area was met by Hudson-Odoi, who somehow manged to cushion a perfect ball for Rosenberg. He turned inside but scuffed his effort wide of the far post. A clear-cut chance the visitors could not afford to waist.
Chelsea looked more comfortable from this point on. Not necessarily dangerous in the final third, but comfortably keeping the ball moving along our back line and into midfield. In the context of the tie scoring wasn’t a necessity and the visitors didn’t look capable of netting twice as was required of them.
A Willian corner was taken short and played back to him, he knocked it in low at the near post and was met by Azpilicueta who could only direct it narrowly wide.
As Malmo continued to adopt a high press, Barkley got in behind the midfield a couple of times towards the end of the half, exchanging passes with Giroud before having his effort saved at the near post.
We went in level at the break and hadn’t done enough with the ball so far to break the deadlock. In a match we could lose 0-1 and still progress, it was not an issue.
Ten minutes into the second half Kante ran onto a loose header in midfield and burst forward, running at the back line he used Willian wide to his left, the back three now exposed. Willian crossed low for Giroud, he had a tap in, and we were ahead. Fantastic opportunism from Kante.
Chelsea were finding it altogether easier to play through the visitors in the second half. Rudiger played directly in to Hudson-Odoi dropping off, who linked with Kante who then attempted to play in Giroud from the edge of the area, the ball ricocheted the way of Barkley who slotted home, only for the linesman’s flag to rule it out.
The visitors were now tiring sixty-five minutes in and unable to execute the press that had thwarted us in the first half. In their off-season, this was perhaps inevitable. A combination of this and a more positive approach on the ball from Chelsea in the second half now meant that there was only one outcome on the table here.
Emerson exposed the vulnerable wide area down the left as Chelsea’s quicker ball movement made it difficult for the Malmo midfielders to cover off the full back. He cut in and headed towards the box with a direct run which was ended when he was scythed down on the edge of the box. Bengtsson received a second yellow for the challenge and now down to ten it was going to be a difficult last eighteen minutes for the Swedish side. Barkley made it double punishment as he brilliantly whipped the free kick into the top corner at the near post.
As well as tiring, Malmo were now losing shape in midfield, more goals were on the cards.
Willian had been excellent and got his second assist of the night with a fantastic switch of play from the right wing to the left, leaving the back three exposed to the run of Hudson-Odoi who took the ball into the box from the right-hand side and drove a right footed effort into the far bottom corner.
Loftus-Cheek nearly made it four on the night as we headed into stoppage time. Turning brilliantly on a Hudson-Odoi pass into him, the substitute had his near post effort well saved.
Chelsea progressed with some ease in the end, but the visitors deserve credit for keeping us honest in the first leg and the first half on the night. Hopefully Chelsea can take the positives from this and carry them into what is a difficult week ahead with the league cup final against Manchester City up next on Sunday, followed by Tottenham at home next Wednesday.
Chelsea (4-3-3) 3 (Giroud 55, Barkley 74, Hudson-Odoi 84)
Caballero; Azpilicueta, (Ampadu 79), Rudiger, Christensen, Emerson;
Kante, (Loftus-Cheek 75), Kovacic, Barkley, (Jorginho 76);
Willian, Giroud, Hudson-Odoi.
Malmo (3-5-2) 0
Dahlin; Vindheim, Nielsen, Bengtsson (sent off 73), Safari;
Traustason, (Gall 72), Christiansen, (Lewicki 71), Bachirou, Rieks;
Antonsson, Rosenberg, (Strandberg 62)