Chelsea head coach Maurizio Sarri battled a fever and took satisfaction only in the result and securing qualification for the Europa League knockout stages after a disappointing performance in the 1-0 win at BATE Borisov.
Chelsea’s fourth victory from as many Group L games – three of them now 1-0 – was played out in freezing fog and memorable only for France World Cup winner Olivier Giroud’s first Blues goal since May’s win over Liverpool, a 794-minute barren streak.
“The best situation this evening is the result. We didn’t play very well,” Sarri said.
“It wasn’t very easy to play a good game here. There was all the conditions to play very badly, for the cold, for the opponents, for the pitch, for everything. I think we could have done better.
“I didn’t like the first half. We moved the ball only horizontal and slowly. It was really very difficult to be dangerous.
“Better in the first 20, 25 minutes in the second half. Then we managed not really very well the last 15 minutes.”
For Sarri, it was a challenging day.
He added: “Today I was in trouble, too. I had fever. It was a very hard day for me. I don’t know if I am improving or if it is only the temperature.”
BATE, comfortably beaten last month in London, struck the woodwork three times, including deep in stoppage time, and Eden Hazard’s services were required for longer than anticipated in Belarus.
As the game clicked into the 51st minute, Hazard was fouled and sent the resulting free-kick soaring out of play beyond the far post.
Hazard had been due to be off by then and Sarri was gesticulating wildly in his technical area, apparently towards the Belgian.
Giroud struck moments later, heading in Emerson Palmieri’s cross at the near post.
Giroud told BT Sport: “It’s true, I was hoping to score soon because I came back late from the World Cup and lacked a bit of luck. You always have to work hard and keep the faith.”
Sarri added: “I’m pleased for him. He’s a very important player for us, because he’s a very, very useful player for the team.
“But I know very well strikers want to score. And so for his confidence I think it’s very important. But, I don’t want him to be worried about scoring, because for us he’s very important, very useful.”
Chelsea would have liked to score another, but instead it was BATE pressing late on.
“They played very well,” Sarri added. “They were unlucky. I think they could draw the match.”
Chelsea have qualified with two matches to spare, the November 29 home clash with Greece’s PAOK and the December 13 trip to Vidi in Hungary.
Sarri is now hungry for the additional point needed to secure top spot in the group, to postpone thoughts of Europe until the last-32 stage.
He added: “The first target in this competition was to qualify. Now we want the second target, to win our group.
“It’s very important because then we can talk again about this competition in February. In February we will have for sure another target, but the first one is very important.”