The spoils were shared in our last Europa League group game as superb set-piece goals from Willian and Giroud lit up an entertaining encounter in Budapest.
We were already assured of top spot having won five out of five before the game in Hungary, and the quest for a club-record sixth straight European win began well when Willian curled a free-kick in on the half-hour.
But Vidi, who started the night hoping to join us in the round of 32, levelled immediately through an Ethan Ampadu own goal, and they went ahead after the interval courtesy of a stunning volley from Loic Nego.
The Blues built some momentum in the final quarter and it was a textbook free-kick from sub Giroud that drew us level.
There were no further goals and BATE Borisov’s victory in Greece means it is the Belarusians who advance in second place.
As expected, Maurizio Sarri heavily rotated his side, with only Willian remaining from the weekend win over Manchester City. Alvaro Morata was chosen to lead the attack, with Callum Hudson-Odoi completing the front three on the right-hand side. Ampadu started his first game of the season, and there was also a maiden European outing under Sarri for Willy Caballero.
Cesc Fabregas captained us for the first time in a competitive match, while the bench included Academy youngsters Jamie Cumming and George McEachran.
As the mist drifted in from the banks of the Danube and with the thermometer reading -1 degrees Celsius, Chelsea kicked off attacking the end containing a sold-out away following.
They watched Boban Nikolov skew the evening’s first attempt well wide on five minutes, and Ross Barkley fail to get meaningful contact on Morata’s downward header soon after.
Sarri spoke on the eve of the game about Vidi possibly adopting a different strategy to the one we witnessed at Stamford Bridge in October, knowing they likely needed a win to advance. But the early indications suggested this was not the case; a low block with plenty of men behind the ball and fast counter-attacking remained the order of the Hungarians’ day.
That said, Loic Nego did force Caballero into action after our hosts had worked a space on the edge of our box midway through the half.
What had been a fairly pedestrian encounter burst into life on the half-hour. Willian’s skill and speed took him past a couple of Vidi challenges, before he was unceremoniously brought down 20 yards out. The Brazilian picked himself up, took a deep breath and curled a fine free-kick over the wall and into the net.
Vidi’s response was immediate. Marko Scepovic flicked a dangerous corner on which hit Ampadu on the head and deflected into the net. 1-1.
We produced our best move of the half on 38 minutes. Hudson-Odoi dribbled past two before playing a reverse pass to the overlapping Davide Zappacosta, whose low centre was almost perfect for Ruben Loftus-Cheek to tap into an unguarded net. As the move was kept alive, Hudson-Odoi this time crossed, with Morata’s near-post flick claimed by Adam Kovacsik in the Vidi goal.
The striker landed awkwardly and couldn’t continue. Olivier Giroud was his replacement.
There was one more chance before the half was up, and it produced the best save yet. Following some neat Vidi interplay in and around our area, Nego thumped goalwards only to be denied by the flying Caballero, who got fingertips to the ball.
Vidi’s left-back Stopira, completely unmarked from a corner, headed wastefully over when play resumed, but the Hungarians didn’t have to wait long to go ahead. Georgi Milanov floated a left-wing cross to the far post that was superbly met by Nego. His first-time volley was so sweetly struck it whizzed past Caballero, and it crowned a fine move that had bisected plenty of Blues.
In response, Hudson-Odoi’s curler was just about gathered by Kovacsik at the second attempt. On 68 minutes, Giroud volleyed Emerson’s cross wide from close range. The French striker then got a much sweeter connection on Fabregas’s angled free-kick, only narrowly failing to emulate Neto’s volley, and from a tighter angle.
The pressure was building. Sub Pedro, on for Willian, was the next to try his luck after chesting down Hudson-Odoi’s cross, but lacked pace or direction in his finish. Three Vidi players went into the book in the space of eight minutes as the home side’s defending grew more desperate.
The last of those, by Paulo Vinicius on Fabregas 22 yards out, was punished. With Willian off, Giroud took on set-piece duties. The decision was handsomely rewarded! His left-footed effort strike cleared the wall and a defender who retreated onto the line at the last moment, zipping into the net via the underside of the crossbar. The picture-perfect free-kick was Giroud’s fourth European goal of the season.
We did plenty of attacking in the final quarter-of-an-hour, but couldn’t break down a stubborn, if tired Vidi defence. Caballero had one more piece of work to do, racing to claim a ball in the box in injury time, but in truth it all ended rather scrappily on an increasingly bumpy pitch.
European football pauses until February, now. We will find out our round of 32 opponents on Monday.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Caballero; Zappacosta, Ampadu, Christensen, Emerson; Fabregas (c), Barkley, Loftus-Cheek; Willian (Pedro 56), Morata (Giroud 45+1), Hudson-Odoi.
Unused subs Cumming, David Luiz, Alonso, Jorginho, McEachran.
Scorers Willian 30, Giroud 75
Booked Loftus-Cheek 79
Vidi (4-5-1): Kovacsik; Fiola, Juhasz (c), Vinicius, Stopira; Nego, Hadzic (Patkai 85), Huszti (Hodzic 81), Nikolov, Milanov (Kovacs 81); Scepovic.
Unused subs Tujvel, Berecz, Tamas, Hangya.
Scorers Ampadu OG 32, Nego 56
Booked Juhasz 66, Huszti 69, Vinicius 73, Nego 77
Referee Aleksandar Stavrev