Chelsea continued on the road to Baku with an entertaining Europa League victory at Stamford Bridge, setting up a semi-final tie against Eintracht Frankfurt.
Pedro had a hand in all four of our goals on a balmy spring evening in west London, with the Blues racing into a 3-0 lead inside 17 minutes. The silky Spaniard cut through the Slavia Prague defence to open the scoring with some neat give-and-go football, then ought to have added a second when he hit the post from a few yards out. Fortunately for the hosts, the rebound struck a defender and fell over the line anyway.
The winger then teed up the competition’s leading scorer, Olivier Giroud, to net his 10th European goal of the season before adding a fourth on the rebound, all inside half an hour. Slavia had briefly reduced the deficit as Tomas Soucek’s header beat Kepa from a corner, though our advantage was swiftly restored.
A second-half Slavia fightback saw the visitors score twice in three minutes but it was not enough to prevent the Chelsea advance in Europe. Our Europa League journey now takes in a seventh country of the campaign and a trip to Germany next month.
Injuries to Marcos Alonso and Antonio Rudiger forced Maurizio Sarri into two defensive changes from the first leg last week, with David Luiz and Emerson drafted into the back four. N’Golo Kante and Eden Hazard also returned to the starting line-up after featuring as second-half substitutes in Prague. Slavia recalled captain Soucek to midfield after the Czech international’s suspension for the first leg, with Jaromir Zmrhal and Ondrej Kudela returning as well.
Alonso’s late header was all that separated the sides after 90 minutes seven days previously but the Blues were boosted by the fact they had never been eliminated from European competition after recording a first-leg win away from home, progressing on each of the past 12 occasions. That confidence was enhanced inside five minutes as an early strike doubled our aggregate advantage.
It was a goal crafted and converted by Pedro, who received Azpilicueta’s cute flick on the right wing before drifting infield, exchanging passes with Giroud and then lifting a measured finish over the onrushing goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar.
Buoyed by the bright start and devoid of the frustrations suffered away from home, our attacking play flowed with ease and precision. Hazard’s strike was blocked at close quarters following a typically mazy dribble from the Belgian, before an unfortunate own goal put daylight between the hosts and Slavia.
The combination on this occasion came on the left between Hazard and Giroud, the latter waiting for the overlapping run of his teammate, who burst into the box and delivered a teasing centre across the face of goal with the outside of his right boot. Pedro arrived on cue and hit the post from two yards out, yet the winger’s blushes were spared as the rebound cannoned off the defender Simon Deli and into the back of the net.
Slavia’s threat in the final third was restricted to one effort from Zmrhal that proved neither cross nor shot, a rare sight at goal that was swiftly followed by the Chelsea third. Pedro turned provider this time, slotted through by Kante’s precise pass inside the full-back and able to roll the ball across for Giroud to steer in a right-footed finish. It took the Frenchman’s Europa League goals tally into double figures for the campaign.
Yet one lesson learned from the away leg was that Slavia’s spirit could not be questioned and the visitors refused to give in even when 4-0 down on aggregate. Deli went close to scoring at the right end after 25 minutes, though his powerful downward header was kept out well by Kepa, who conceded a corner in the process.
From the resulting set-piece, the Czech champions pulled one back. A left-sided delivery was swung in towards the unmarked Soucek, who was able to get enough power on his header to guide the ball into the far corner.
It was 3-1 on the night with less than half an hour on the clock but those in the ground hoping for a pause to tally the scoreline were given no respite as Pedro notched his second less than 70 seconds after the Blues conceded.
Giroud and Hazard were involved again as Sarri’s side broke forward quickly down the left, with Emerson joining in to deliver a low cross into the centre. Kolar managed to keep out Giroud’s close-range effort but could do nothing about the follow-up, which was turned in by the grateful Pedro.
A comfortable cushion restored, the hosts were able to settle into a less frenetic approach and only Emerson’s blocked effort from the edge of the box threatened further goals before the interval. However, any hopes of a managed second period dissipated with two Slavia goals inside 10 minutes of the restart, which brought to life the red-and-white away contingent.
Sevcik netted them both, the first a dipping drive from outside the box that flew in at the near post following an encouraging spell of possession for the Czechs in our final third. The forward’s second, Slavia’s third, came three minutes later as the 24-year-old found the top corner with an even more eye-catching strike.
4-3 on the night, 5-3 on aggregate. The Blues retained a two-goal advantage in the quarter-final but the dynamic of the contest had altered and the momentum was with the visitors. Sevcik was teed up with a chance to complete an unlikely hat-trick but slipped at the vital moment, allowing Kepa the opportunity to grasp the loose ball down low.
The Czechs were kept in check thereafter, with only substitute and former Blue Miroslav Stoch causing a brief moment of concern when he fired over the bar late on. Elsewhere on our side of the draw, Frankfurt were able to overturn a 4-2 first-leg deficit against Benfica to set up a last-four meeting with the Blues. The first leg will be played in Germany on Thursday 2 May, with the return at the Bridge a week later.
Chelsea (4-3-3) Kepa; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen, David Luiz, Emerson; Kante, Kovacic, Barkley (Jorginho 70); Pedro (Hudson-Odoi 86), Giroud, Hazard (Willian 65)
Unused subs Caballero, Higuain, Zappacosta, Cahill
Scorers Pedro 5, 27; Deli (og) 9; Giroud 17
Booked Kante 33, Emerson 75, Kepa 83, David Luiz 88
Slavia Prague (4-2-3-1) Kolar; Kudela, Ngadeu, Deli, Bonl; Kral, Soucek (c); Sevcik (Stoch 78), Traore, Zmrhal (Skoda 85); Masopust (Olayinka 52)
Unused subs Kovar, Zeleny, Van Buren, Frydrych
Scorers Soucek 26; Sevcik 51, 54
Booked Soucek 53, Kudela 73
Referee Damir Skomina (SVN)