Chelsea head into the Europa league semi final second leg at Stamford Bridge next Thursday on level terms with Frankfurt, but with what could prove to be a vital away goal. Away goals are vital in knock out European football these days, and returning from Germany with a 1-1 draw has to be seen as a good result.
The home sides supporters certainly did their bit in the first leg, creating a fantastic atmosphere amid much flag waving as the teams emerged from the tunnel. They would sustain this for the duration of the match, and their travelling support are likely to be in good voice on Thursday.
Frankfurt lined up with a back three and five across the middle, but rather than sitting deep with their wingbacks forming a back five as other teams have done against us they were extremely positive in an attacking sense and both wide men forayed forward with abandon, and even without the ball they pressed us. The first chance fell the way of their captain Abraham. Christensen raced out to the right wing in an attempt to cover Azpilicueta, but completely mistimed his sliding challenge, cleaning out Rode. The Dane picked up a yellow card for the tackle. The resulting free kick was whipped in with pace, and a flick on saw it reach Abraham at the far post, but he couldn’t keep his shot down.
The impressive Da Costa had already troubled Emerson with some direct dribbling early on from his right wing back position, and caused problems throughout.
As the match settled down it became clear that the battleground of the left and right wings would be key to the outcome on the night. With the ball Frankfurt’s wingbacks were dangerous and were isolating our full backs. Without it they looked vulnerable wide if we could move the ball quick enough to take advantage of the space.
The first victory out wide went the way of the home side. Giroud was dispossessed halfway inside the opposition half. The ball was played into Frankfurt’s dangerous forward Jovic around the half way line. He moved the ball wide to left wing back Kostic. He ran at Azpilicueta who jockeyed him, but maybe didn’t get tight enough. Kostic delivered a fantastic driven cross for Jovic, who also had too much space, and the Serbian perfectly directed the header in off the foot of the far post.
Chelsea responded well. In truth we had looked good before the opening goal. Moving the ball well and keeping the German side on the back foot for the most part. Pedro fired a warning shot at Trapp’s goal twenty-five minutes in. It flew narrowly wide of the near post from twenty yards.
Two minutes later Christensen pinged a great diagonal ball out to Willian on the left. This tactic was unfortunately one we didn’t use enough on the night. With their wingbacks high this ball isolated the right central defender against Willian, and effectively created a three against three scenario with Giroud and Pedro in on their back three. It also left plenty of options to get in behind by linking with Loftus-Cheek and Kante. Nothing came of it on this occasion though.
Another free kick caused us problems as has continued to be the case over the last six weeks. This time a ball in from a similar area on the left flank to that of their first chance flicked off the head of Giroud. This proved to be a vital touch as it marginally carried it over the head of a Frankfurt player coming in at the far post.
The last ten minutes of the first half saw great pressure from Chelsea. Loftus-Cheek was making powerful runs forward from midfield and Pedro continued to look threatening. Ruben cut across the front of the box from the left to fire agonisingly wide at the near post, while Willian beat both Da Costa and Abraham down the left, but his pull back from the touchline aimed at Loftus-Cheek was cut out. Right on forty-five minutes a Willian corner was headed up and away from Luiz who was steaming in towards it. Christensen managed to knock a header down to Loftus-Cheek from the loose ball. He then found Pedro who switched the ball quickly from his left foot to his right, and in the blink of an eye had fired into the corner of the net. Level on half time, and a vital away goal on the board. This set the tone for the second half.
Diagonal balls wide to our wingers again seemed to be the best option to create two versus one chances wide, but as in the first half we didn’t take advantage of this.
Loftus-Cheek continued to look dangerous, particularly when driving out of midfield. He did this excellently just before the hour mark, playing a one two with Pedro to find himself in the box, but he couldn’t keep his effort down.
Chelsea looked purposeful on the ball, which we had most of in the second period. There were definitely opportunities to exploit Frankfurt at the back. Pedro was brought down some thirty yards from goal and David Luiz rattled the bar with a powerful, trademark dipping effort. Trapp got a slight touch to this shot, a superb save.
The main talking point before kick-off had been the omission of Eden Hazard from the starting line up. Sarri sighting that after ten matches on the trot he didn’t want him to play ninety minutes. He would play thirty. He had his first chance fourteen minutes after coming on. Azpilicueta floated a cross to the far post, which Loftus-Cheek took down and drove at goal. Trapp was equal to it, Hazard couldn’t get over the ball on the follow up and his left foot volley was off target.
Trap was in action a couple of minutes later as he saved from a Luiz header. Chelsea were pilling on the pressure. We dominated the half until the last ten minutes when the balance swung the other way. Da Costa, arguably the home teams star man on the night, beat an out of position Luiz down the right, and whipped in a great low cross that only evaded the stretching Jovic by a matter of inches.
Into the last six minutes and Abraham, who had gone close with the first chance of the match, had an even better one late on. Meeting an out swinging corner from the right he headed over from six yards.
Chelsea had ridden their luck on occasions, but overall looked good against tougher opposition than we have faced so far. A lot of work needs to be done in the second leg, but we are in a good position to reach the final in Baku.
Eintracht Frankfurt (3-5-2) 1 (Jovic 23)
Trapp; Abraham ©, Hinteregger, Falette;
Da Costa, Fernandes, (Paciencia 73) Hasebe, Rode, Kostic;
Gacinovic, (Willems 90), Jovic.
Chelsea (4-3-3) 1 (Pedro 45)
Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta ©, Christensen, Luiz, Emerson;
Kante, Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek, (Kovacic 82);
Pedro, Giroud, Willian, (Hazard 61).