Thursday night Europa League football never seems to be quite ideal for the teams involved, and Chelsea certainly had a tough time en route to a 1-0 victory over MOL Vidi at Stamford Bridge.
Alvaro Morata ended another long goal drought, and that was enough for Chelsea to prevent a shock draw against the Hungarian champions.
Chelsea are clearly taking the competition seriously given the team selections that Maurizio Sarri has put out for the first two matches.
While some supporters would like to see a few of the youngsters feature in these matches, Sarri is using these fixtures to use some of his squad players while given rest to those in his preferred starting 11.
With the only Mateo Kovacic, Willian, and Kepa Arrizabalaga retaining their places from the side that drew with Liverpool at the weekend, it’s understandable that Chelsea looked a bit disjointed in the first half.
There was a notable difference in the speed of passing and decision making against MOL Vidi, yet the quality at Chelsea’s disposal allowed them to dominate the ball despite not creating many clear chances in the final third.
Emerson Palmieri looked lively in his second start of the season, and he nearly scored an otherworldly goal when he ghosted past three defenders. His composure in front of goal let him down, though, and his shot flew well over the crossbar.
Morata’s confidence level has been very low in recent weeks, especially after all the chances missed against PAOK in matchday 1, and it looked like it might be another frustrating night for the Spaniard.
16 minutes in, Pedro slipped a clever pass through to Morata who was left one-on-one with the keeper. But despite getting in a good position, his attempted dink over the goalkeeper was shanked wide of the post, striking the stanchion to the side of the goal in the process.
Vidi easily could have snatched the lead late in the first half through Loic Nego. A miscommunication between Arrizabalaga and Andreas Christensen nearly allowed the forward to take advantage, before moments later outmuscling Emerson Palmieri only to fire a tame effort straight at Arrizabalaga.
Vidi might also feel aggrieved at not receiving a penalty late in the first half when Gary Cahill appeared to impede Boban Nikolov as he was racing through on goal, but the referee was unconvinced and neither a free kick nor a penalty were given.
Chelsea could have had a penalty of their own when Paulo Vinicius made contact with Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the other 18-yard box. Again, the referee waved play on.
Just after the break, Nego threatened the Chelsea goal again. This time, the ball broke to him inside the area, and Arrizabalaga was forced to make a good reaction save to keep the ball out.
Clearly sensing that Vidi were starting to gain confidence, Sarri introduced Eden Hazard off the bench just before the hour mark, but the Belgian didn’t bring an immediate impact as Chelsea’s movement and passing still seemed to lack sharpness.
The breakthrough finally came, though, and it was Morata who was the most relieved man inside Stamford Bridge. Fabregas had found space all night, and this time his chipped pass into the penalty area was headed on by Willian before Morata lifted the ball over Tomas Tujvel for the opener.
Vidi nearly clawed one back when Marko Scepovic scooted in behind the Chelsea defence and his shot forced a save from Arrizabalaga and a hurried clearance from Victor Moses.
Despite the last efforts from Vidi, Chelsea held on for a victory that was harder work than it possibly should have been.