Chelseabooked their berth in the quarter-finals of the Europa League with an emphatic 5-0 win over Dynamo Kyiv at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev on Thursday.
The Blues traveled to Ukraine with a healthy three-goal advantage from the first leg at Stamford Bridge last week, and piled further misery on the hosts to emerge 8-0 winners on aggregate over the course of the two-legged affair.
Despite making four changes to the side that beat Dynamo Kyiv in the first leg, Maurizio Sarri’s men were head and shoulders above the opposition from the get-go and cruised to a win in the end.
Olivier Giroud opened the scoring for Chelsea as early as the fifth minute and grabbed his second goal in the 33rd minute, before Marcos Alonso made it 3-0 for the visitors just ahead of the half time interval.
The west Londoners maintained their dominance after the break and completed the rout in the second half as Giroud bagged his hat-trick in the 59th minute, before grabbing an assist for Callum Hudson-Odoi’s finish in the 78th minute.
Chelsea have now established themselves as one of the front-runners to lift the Europa League after reaching the quarter-finals this term, and will look forward to the draw on Friday.
On that note, let’s take a closer look at the major talking points from the second leg round of 16 clash in Kiev:
#1 Chelsea shrug off ‘surface’ concerns with five-star display
Prior to their second leg clash with Dynamo Kyiv, Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri was concerned and vocal about the playing surface at the Olympic Stadium. The Italian had inspected the surface before the pre-match press conference and opined that it was far from ideal to contest a European game.
However, the UEFA responded to Sarri’s plea by stressing the surface is just aesthetically unwell and that it has met the standard regulations set by the federation. Despite the patchy condition of the pitch, Chelsea were far from affected by it.
The Premier League giants dominated the length and breadth of the surface and enjoyed the freedom on it by making the best use of the spaces they carved open on the night.
There was little respite for the hosts, who were well and truly battered in their own backyard as Chelsea conjured a free-flowing display while going forward.
And although Sarri was concerned about the condition of the surface and the possibility of it hindering his team by making the players more susceptible to injury, it won’t have mattered to him as soon as Chelsea got into their stride and walked off unscathed in the end.
#2 Olivier Giroud strikes early and maintains red-hot streak
It took Olivier Giroud just five minutes to open the scoring for Chelsea on the night and his early goal meant that Dynamo Kyiv were out of the tie, even before they started to contest it.
The Frenchman conjured one of his best performances in a Chelsea shirt, albeit against weaker opposition, in Kiev and deservedly bagged a hat-trick and an assist to help him to the summit of the scoring charts in the Europa League this term.
Giroud’s opening goal came from a corner as he finished from close range after Ruben Loftus-Cheek guided the ball into his path with a header.
The 32-year-old marksman doubled his tally for the night in the 33rd minute, when he latched on to a superb pass from Marcos Alonso to finish expertly beyond Denys Boyko in goal for the hosts.
However, the striker was far from done and completed his hat-trick in the 59th minute when he leaped into the air and guided a free-kick from Willian into the back of the net with his head.
Giroud even had time to produce an inch-perfect defence-splitting pass in the 78th minute to help Callum-Hudson Odoi complete the rout and cap off a brilliant display.
The three goals netted against Dynamo Kyiv not only helped Chelsea emerge as comfortable winners, but also helped Giroud become the leading goal-scorer in the Europa League with nine goals from nine games.
#3 Denys Harmash flatters to deceive as false-nine
The injuries suffered by Artem Biesiedin and Nazariy Rusyn forced Alyaksandr Khatskevich to deploy midfielder Denys Harmash in a false-nine position against Chelsea for the second leg.
Despite being an attacking midfielder by trade, Harmash had featured against Arsenal Kyiv in the local derby last Sunday and bagged a brace on the night as Dynamo Kyiv cruised to a 4-0 win.
However, he failed to replicate anything close to that spectacular performance and cut a frustrated figure leading the line for the hosts, who did not enjoy a lot of chances to begin with.
Harmash found the net either side of half time, but was rightfully adjudged offside after straying beyond the last defender on both occasions.
The 28-year-old also nearly endured a catastrophic mishap inside his own penalty area, where he attempted a clearance from a corner kick and almost sliced the ball into his own net.
As Chelsea took Dynamo Kyiv to the cleaners, their hopes of getting back into the game were further damaged by the toothless attack led by Harmash, who was forced to play in an unnatural position owing to the circumstances.
#4 Academy graduates prove Chelsea must tread on road not taken
It’s true that the opponents were naive and disjointed for the majority of the game, but two of Chelsea’s most coveted young talents proved why they deserve their place in the squad as first team regulars.
Loftus-Cheek was on another pedestal compared to his midfield counter-parts and proved too much to handle for the hosts. The 23-year-old has been troubled by a recurring back problem so far this term, but stood tall and bullied his opponents in Kiev.
On the other hand, Hudson-Odoi grabbed the assist for Marcos Alonso’s goal before half time with a cut-back after a quick sprint, and eventually got his goal for the third-straight game in the Europa League, when he finished expertly after getting on the end of a sublime pass from Olivier Giroud.
With Chelsea potentially looking at an impending transfer ban in the summer, both Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi have now shown why they must tread the road not taken by trusting their youth.
However, it remains to be seen whether they can keep hold of their most sought-after crown jewels in the summer after constantly overlooking them in the past.
#5 Destination Baku – A one-way ticket back to the Champions League?
The battle for a top four finish in the Premier League is heating up with just eight games remaining in the season and Chelsea are languishing at sixth behind rivals Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Despite having a game in hand over the teams above them in the table, the Blues will know they are far from being guaranteed at least a fourth-place finish in the Premier League this term.
And that is why Maurizio Sarri will be well aware of the considerable prize awaiting Chelsea, if they manage to go all the way to the final of the Europa League in Baku and lift the trophy in May.
The Blues can secure a return to the Champions League after their year-long absence, should they triumph in the Europa League at the end of the season.
Sarri literally threw away the opportunity of winning the competition with Napoli last year by solely focusing on usurping Juventus in Serie A and will know he cannot afford to do the same mistake with Chelsea, especially with a lot more on the line and considering the long wait for silverware in his coaching career.