Chelsea put one foot in the Europa League quarter-finals with a convincing 3-0 victory over Dynamo Kyiv at Stamford Bridge.
Pedro opened the scoring in the 17th minute and the hosts missed a number of chances to extend their lead in the first half.
Willian finally doubled Chelsea’s advantage midway through the second half with a stunning free-kick before substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi added a third late on.
Here are four winners and two losers as Chelsea eased past Kyiv in the Round of 16 first leg.
Winner: Olivier Giroud
Olivier Giroud that is just rude! 😍
A sublime backheel nutmeg puts Pedro in to give Chelsea an early lead!
That slow-mo replay… C’est magnifique 👌 pic.twitter.com/yhEKsFtK09
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 7, 2019
Olivier Giroud has endured a difficult quest to become Chelsea’s first-choice striker since arriving at Stamford Bridge a little over a year ago.
Under Conte, and at the beginning of Maurizio Sarri’s reign, he fought Alvaro Morata for a starting spot. Now Morata is gone, but Gonzalo Higuain appears to be Sarri’s preferred option to lead the line.
Thankfully for Giroud, he still has the chance to prove his worth in the Europa League, and he continued to impress in Europe with a fine centre-forward display against Kyiv. The Frenchman didn’t score, but his hold-up play was often exquisite, especially his flicked assist for Pedro’s opener.
Giroud has been directly involved in seven goals in his last six appearances in the competition, scoring six times and providing one assist. If those numbers continue to increase, and if Chelsea keep progressing, he will be a contender for player of the tournament.
Loser: Gonzalo Higuain
With Giroud in fine form on Thursday nights, the pressure is on Higuain to improve his displays and keep his place in the team.
Since signing from Juventus on loan in January, Higuain has scored three goals; two against Huddersfield Town and one against Fulham – the sides currently propping up the Premier League.
If Higuain fails to find the net against Wolves in the Premier League this weekend, there is every chance Sarri will turn to Giroud in the following league game at Everton, and not just to derive goals from Giroud himself.
There is an argument to be made that Giroud improves Chelsea’s other attackers, such is the quality of his hold-up play. Pedro and Willian were constantly attempting one-twos with the 32-year-old, something they might not have attempted as often had Higuain started.
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) March 7, 2019
The in-form Pedro could have easily bagged a hat-trick before the half-time whistle against Kyiv, but he was forced to settle for just one goal in the entire game.
His failure to find the net more than once was partly down to a string of solid saves by Kyiv goalkeeper Denys Boyko, although Pedro will be disappointed with his finishing, particularly an effort from close range that he sent straight at Boyko.
Regardless, Pedro deserves credit for his current form, which has provided a contrast to doubts over the future of Eden Hazard and questions over the consistency of Chelsea’s other attackers. The Spaniard is staking his claim to be a guaranteed starter.
Winner: Willian’s free-kick duty claim
*Alexa, show me an inch-perfect free-kick…*
Take a bow, Willian. That’s special 🙌 pic.twitter.com/b7b5BJqTvA
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 7, 2019
Willian marked his 100th European appearances in sublime style, whipping a perfect free-kick into the top corner midway through the second half.
Boyko, who single-handedly kept the scoreline at 1-0 before the break, didn’t move as Willian’s wonderful strike hurtled past his right shoulder. It was proof of what the inconsistent Brazilian can provide when his talent fully shines through.
David Luiz is usually on direct free-kick for Chelsea. His knuckleball technique is seldom successful, with efforts flying way over the crossbar as often as they work the goalkeeper. Willian’s latest strike, his 11th direct free-kick goal for the Blues, will surely put him back on top of the set-piece roster.
It may have also secured the 30-year-old a place in the starting line-up against Everton this weekend, although Sarri will have to leave out either Higuain, Pedro or Eden Hazard to make room for Willian.
Loser: Kyiv’s away goals record
Unlike Arsenal, the Europa League’s other English side, Chelsea managed to get the job done in the first leg and will be confident of getting through the reverse fixture in Ukraine without any problems.
Sadly that means Kyiv are likely to be out of the competition by this time next week. Thursday’s defeat also brought an end to Kyiv’s impressive goal record on the road.
Indeed, Alyaksandr Khatskevich’s side had scored in all 17 of their away matches across all competitions this term before their trip to Stamford Bridge. They will need to score at least three times in the second leg to keep their dream of reaching the quarter-finals alive, which is unlikely.
Winners: Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi
Callum Hudson’s last three #UEL appearances at Stamford Bridge:
Three in three for the youngster. ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/Huf9Ffhurp
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 7, 2019
What more do Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi have to do to convince Sarri they should be starting more often?
The youngsters, who have both struggled for regular starting berths this season, came off the bench and combined for the third goal; Loftus-Cheek brought the ball down and slipped it through to Hudson-Odoi, who finished clinically.
Of course, there are plenty of high-quality senior players the duo must battle for a place in Sarri’s preferred line-up. But surely it is worth handing them more starts if only to ensure they don’t seek moves away from the club, as Hudson-Odoi did in January.
The 18-year-old has scored four goals and provided three assists in his last seven appearances across all competitions. Chelsea fans will be even more desperate for him to stick around now.