Chelsea produced an excellent performance in the first leg of our Europa League semi-final and were rewarded with a precious away goal scored by Pedro.
Dealt with the unfamiliar feeling of going behind in this competition midway through the first half, the Blues responded with poise and panache amid a hostile atmosphere in Frankfurt.
Pedro cancelled out Luka Jovic’s opener with a smart finish on the stroke of half-time. Thereafter we were much the stronger side, and will return to London with the feeling we probably should have won having looked a constant menace in attack. David Luiz hit a bar and had a header saved, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek, outstanding in midfield, could have netted on a number of occasions.
The second goal did not arrive, though, and we were ultimately grateful the home side’s skipper David Abraham headed over with five minutes remaining when it looked easier to hit the target.
The draw means we are now 16 games unbeaten in the Europa League, a new tournament record. It is all to play for when the teams reconvene at Stamford Bridge a week today.
Maurizio Sarri opted for Willian and Pedro either side of Olivier Giroud in attack and Eden Hazard on the bench. Jorginho made his 50th appearance for the club in midfield with N’Golo Kante and Loftus-Cheek ahead of him. Andreas Christensen stepped in for the injured Toni Rudiger, and Emerson Palmieri was another new face from the weekend draw at Old Trafford.
The hosts replaced the suspended Ante Rebic with Austrian defender Martin Hinteregger. Mankoto Hasebe moved into midfield, at least when Frankfurt had the ball. Star striker Jovic was supported at various points by Filip Kostic, Danny da Costa, Mijat Gacinovic, Gelson Fernandes and Sebastien Rode.
Chelsea’s first job was to try and silence the home support, who created an impressive noise from the off and also displayed one mighty banner pre-game.
The early signs were encouraging. Sarri’s men kept possession tidily and probed through the driving runs of Pedro and Loftus-Cheek, winning a couple of corners in the process which came to nothing.
Frankfurt were content to sit and then swarm forward when they had the ball, trying to overload our box. A couple of back-post crosses briefly looked threatening but we successfully cleared.
As the midway point of the half approached, Frankfurt upped the ante. Christensen wiped out Rode by the touchline and was booked. From the resulting set-piece, the ball was allowed to reach the unmarked Abraham who shot wastefully over on his left. Jovic made no such mistake on 23 minutes.
Giroud misdirected a pass and in a flash Frankfurt were on the attack. The ball was worked wide to Kostic, whose low cross was not his best but brilliantly made the most of by Jovic. From near the penalty spot, the Serbian stooped and guided his header in off the far post.
In reply Pedro fired a fraction wide from 20 yards out, and another couple of promising attacking situations came and went without the required precision to create a clear opening.
On 40 minutes, an improvised flick from Giroud very nearly teed Loftus-Cheek up, and then in the space of 60 seconds the midfielder did get two shots away. The first was blocked; the second struck a whisker wide of the left-hand post.
So it looked like we would be heading in behind, but just as at Old Trafford the Blues had other ideas. Cesar Azpilicueta deserves credit for scrapping to win our seventh corner of the half, which Willian swung over. It was cleared but not fully, and after Christensen and Loftus-Cheek won their respective duels, the latter found Pedro. He shifted the ball quickly on to his left foot and picked out the bottom corner with aplomb. On the balance of play it was deserved.
A clash of heads left Jorginho requiring treatment at the start of the second half but he was okay to continue.
His midfield partner Loftus-Cheek had another opportunity to stretch his legs following cute midfield work from Kante. He skipped past Rode with ease and exchanged passes with Pedro, but unfortunately didn’t have the finish to match, shooting over from 10 yards out.
Shortly after forcing Kevin Trapp to save on 56 minutes after skipping inside, Willian was hacked down by Hasebe to stop a break after we had stolen possession, an increasingly regular theme. David Luiz strode up and thwacked the bar from the subsequent set-piece, trying to emulate his goal in Basel six years ago. Trapp was deemed to have got a touch on it.
The Blues had been well on top since the break, and Sarri sought to capitalise on our momentum by sending Hazard on for Willian. Half-an-hour remained.
Giroud wanted a penalty after holding the ball up and going to ground deep inside the Frankfurt box, but the officials were having none of it.
Chelsea kept coming. After a prolonged period of possession, Pedro’s cross reached Loftus-Cheek and his sweetly-struck half-volley was parried only as far as Hazard. The follow-up strike was deflected wide.
An unmarked David Luiz then headed straight at Trapp from Hazard’s inviting free-kick, and it felt like this was the moment to seize control of the tie.
Twelve minutes remained when the hosts mustered their first meaningful attack of the half. They wanted a penalty but Giroud clearly chested the ball away, and then Da Costa’s inviting low delivery evaded everyone.
Mateo Kovacic replaced Loftus-Cheek on 83 minutes as the noise levels rose once more. From a hotly-disputed corner, Abraham somehow headed over from just yards out. And then we almost gifted Frankfurt the lead after giving the ball away from a goal-kick. Only a superb recovery tackle from Kante and a brave David Luiz block got us out of trouble.
There were no more scares and both teams were content to settle for a draw. An appetising evening awaits back at the Bridge.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen, David Luiz, Emerson; Kante, Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek (Kovacic 83); Pedro, Giroud, Willian (Hazard 61).
Unused subs Caballero, Zappacosta, Alonso, Barkley, Higuain.
Scorer Pedro 45
Booked Christensen 19
Eintracht Frankfurt (3-4-2-1): Trapp; Abraham (c), Hinteregger, Falette; Da Costa, Hasebe, Fernandes (Pacienca 73), Kostic; Rode, Gacinovic (Willems 90+2); Jovic.
Unused subs Ronnow, N'Dicka, De Guzman, Torro, Chandler.
Scorer Jovic 23
Booked Hasebe 58, Fernandes 61
Referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande from Spain.