Alvaro Morata struck a second-half winner to maintain the Blues’ 100 per cent start to the Europa League group stage.
The result matched our win away in Greece in the opening game and with PAOK victorious away against BATE Borisov tonight, Maurizio Sarri’s men have a three-point lead in the group with two games played.
Morata’s goal, his first since we beat Arsenal in our opening home game of the season, decided a game which Chelsea had largely dominated although it was not without its brief scares.
The first half will mostly be remembered for missed chances and for a penalty for Chelsea which was not given but should have been. Thankfully we were left to rue neither and go into a double-header of games against BATE well-placed.
Sarri made eight changes today from the side that had contested the weekend game against Liverpool, one which he had described as mentally and physically demanding, so the need to freshen it up was clear.
The defence in front of Kepa Arrizabalaga was completely changed and in midfield there was a first start of the season for Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The front three was the same as the attack that had contested the win in Greece.
One of the defenders brought in, Emerson Palmieri, was the first Chelsea player to threaten the Vidi goal, thanks to his gliding run into the penalty area but a sudden rush of blood to the left-back’s head when facing the target resulted in him firing over. Mateo Kovacic was also off-target with an effort soon after. Both moves had benefitted from Loftus-Cheek’s power.
Before those attempts, Gary Cahill had extended a long leg to cut out a Vidi cross as the visitors found plenty of space to counter-attack, and from the corner, it needed Emerson to be in the right place to head a ball back over the Chelsea bar. It would be a long while before that goal came under threat again.
With 16 minutes gone, the Blues should have opened the scoring. Cesc Fabregas and Pedro moved the ball on with quick touches and suddenly Morata was in on goal. He took a touch onto his right foot and looked certain to hit the target but instead sent the ball a yard wide.
Pedro shot into the keeper’s arms and Davide Zappacosta tested the Hungarians with some low crosses, but we reached 25 minutes played with no goals. Willian attempted a floated delivery from a free-kick and Morata had timed his run well, but as the centre-forward stretched and fell, he could not divert the ball on target.
During the 15 minutes before the break, Loftus-Cheek came as close as anyone to finding a way through the Vidi defence with two storming runs, the second of which should have ended with the referee pointing to the penalty spot. The first, the dress rehearsal, took him inside Paulo Vinicius. However he then took on one more defender and it proved to be one too many.
The second run looked to be going all the way until Vinicius clearly fouled Ruben, but remarkably no penalty was given. The Chelsea players could not believe it.
We had been on top and Vidi had offered little, but for a few minutes before the interval we were ragged at the back and could have conceded. The visitors claimed a penalty of their own at one point but that too was turned down.
The second half did not start smoothly for Chelsea either, with Kepa forced into a diving save by Loic Nego’s shot. Sarri sent for Hazard and there were 53 minutes on the clock when the Belgian replaced Pedro. Barkley came on for Loftus-Cheek a little later as the search went on for the opening goal, and with Vidi continuing to pose the odd threat.
Barkley, fresh from his England recall earlier in the day, quickly warmed the keeper’s hands before in the 70th minute, Morata hit the back of the net.
The Spaniard’s contest-deciding finish was sharp and first-time and from inside the six-yard box. Willian deserves plenty of credit too for a clever back-header on after Fabregas had delivered the ball into the near-post region of the penalty area.
It was Barkley who came closest to adding to the lead when his glancing header from a free-kick came back off the crossbar. Kepa did well to keep out a low shot from Nego at the other end and Morata shot across the face of goal when set up by Hazard and with time running out, so a single goal settled it.
On to Southampton on Sunday!
Chelsea (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Zappacosta, Cahill (c), Christensen, Emerson; Loftus-Cheek, Fabregas, Kovacic; Pedro (Hazard 54), Morata, Willian (Moses 74).
Unused subs Caballero, Alonso, Ampadu, Kante.
Scorer Morata 70
Booked Morata 66
Vidi (4-3-2-1): Tujvel; Fiola, Juhasz (c), Vinicius, Stopira; Nego, Hadzic (Patkai 83), Nikolov; Milanov (Hodzic 83), Huszti (Kovacs 77), Scepopic.
Unused subs Kovacsik, Tamas, Hangya, Berecz.
Booked Nego 14, Huszti 44, Milanov 56
Referee Miroslav Zelinka from Czech Republic.