Goals from Pedro, Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi handed Chelsea a 3-0 win and put the Blues in pole position in their round of 16 tie against Dynamo Kiev.
Maurizio Sarri would have been aware that Chelsea needed an advantage going into the second leg in the Ukrainian capital next week.
Chelsea made their early pressure count when Pedro put them in the lead after 17 minutes.
It should have been more before the break, but a string of first half saves from Denys Boyko kept the score down.
Willian doubled Chelsea’s lead in the second half with a sumptuous free-kick before Hudson-Odoi made it three, Sarri’s trio of wingers ensured that the Italian boss didn’t have to call upon the services of Eden Hazard who will be fresh for Chelsea’s Premier League game against Wolves on Sunday.
Here’s five things we learned from the game at Stamford Bridge:
1. Lively Pedro
Pedro has plenty of European experience, and in the opening stages he was playing like a player who knew what European nights were all about. He looked lively from the very off, and on 17 minutes he punished Dynamo Kiev when he opened the scoring following a neat one-two with Olivier Giroud. The goal was Pedro’s ninth of the season so far and his first in the Europa League.
He could and should have made it 2-0 shortly afterwards when he met Davide Zappacosta’s low powerful cross but his effort was saved by Boyko. On 33 minutes, he was again denied by Boyko after going one-on-one, on another evening he could have had a first half hat-trick.
The former Barcelona winger played plenty of minutes under Antonio Conte, and he’s had his fair share of time under Sarri.
Pedro is a very tactically astute player. He played a key role for Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, he played his part in Spain’s 2010 World Cup triumph and he was a regular for Conte in Chelsea’s 93-point title winning season in 2016/17. The Spaniard helped get the best out of Lionel Messi at Barcelona, and played an unselfish role in Conte’s system which allowed Hazard to thrive.
Hazard didn’t start the game against Dynamo, but Pedro stepped up to the plate.
Now 31-years-old and an experienced member of the Chelsea squad, he makes his experience count and between now and the end of the season he can be a very valuable asset to Chelsea.
2. Chelsea should have put the game to bed in the first half
It was a dominant first half display from Chelsea, they went in at the break 1-0 up but it should have been more. Pedro had two golden opportunities to add to his goal tally after opening the scoring. Ross Barkley also had a shot saved by Boyko and David Luiz should have hit the target with a header from a corner on 35 minutes.
The Blues had the vast majority of the ball in the first half, and they should have had more goals to show for their dominance. Dynamo Kiev have their goalkeeper Boyko to thank for keeping the scores down, but Chelsea’s finishing could have been better.
In the second half, they took the game and tie away from Dynamo Kiev but if they hadn’t they would have been ruing the missed chanced in the first half.
3. Giroud provides a good focal point in attack
He played a key role for Les Bleus in France’s World Cup triumph last summer, and in this seasons Europa League Olivier Giroud has proved to be a useful weapon for Sarri.
He hasn’t figured a lot in the Premier League, but in the Europa League Giroud has weighed in with six goals in seven games so far this campaign.
In the first half, he provided one of the assists of the season with a back-heel into Pedro, an assist which featured a cheeky nutmeg that assistant manager Gianfranco Zola on the Chelsea bench would have been proud of. His link-up play with Pedro and Willian either side of him was excellent, just like his link-up play with Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann at the World Cup.
4. Chelsea DO have character in their squad
Chelsea had three games in five matches when they lost to Bournemouth, Manchester City and Manchester United by an aggregate score of 6-0. In their five matches since their 2-0 FA Cup defeat to United, the Blues have won four and in the other game they kept a clean sheet against City before being beaten on penalties.
The character of Chelsea had been heavily questioned last month, but they have responded well which has kept their hopes of a top four finish as well as winning the Europa League alive. Their character was also in question under Jose Mourinho, but they responded by winning the league under Conte.
The Chelsea players have responded to tough periods in the past, and in the last few weeks they’ve responded again with good performances and results.
Chelsea have a talented squad which is packed full of top flight, European and international experience. They have it in them to put on a show, and tonight they did just that in a commanding home performance.
Sarri’s job is safe, for now.
5. Willian scores stunner on 100th European appearance
When Chelsea last played Dynamo Kiev at home, Willian scored a stunning free-kick which was Chelsea’s second goal of the night. History repeated itself tonight as the Brazilian star curled the ball beautifully up and over the wall with pace into Boyko’s top right-hand corner.
The Ukranian goalkeeper was proving a tough obstacle for Chelsea to get past in the Dynamo Kiev goal and it was going to take something truly special to beat him for a second time on the night, something which Willian eventually delivered. It’s a goal he would have enjoyed as a former Shakhtar Donetsk player.
With Hazard rested, the pressure was on Pedro and Willian to deliver and they did just that for Chelsea to put them in a commanding position in the tie.