Chelsea began their Europa League campaign with a routine 1-0 victory over PAOK in Greece.
The Blues dominated possession but failed to create many clear chances against a defensively solid PAOK. Although Chelsea were not threatened by the Greek side, they failed to kill the game off, which led to a nervous end to the match. Willian’s goal gave Chelsea the lead but the London side rarely looked like adding to it as they bossed the second half.
Here is what we learned from a win which took Chelsea to second in their Europa League group.
5. Alvaro Morata Is Still Struggling for Form
The Spaniard’s struggles since moving to Chelsea continued against PAOK as the striker missed a host of chances during the Blues’ victory. Morata’s start to life in the Premier League has been tough, and the 25-year-old endured a difficult game against his Greek opponents.
Morata will be disappointed that he failed to register a goal, as he was presented with a number of good opportunities to score. The striker was replaced by Olivier Giroud during the match, and it is likely that he will lose his starting spot in the next game.
4. Maurizio Sarri Will Take the Europa League Seriously
Maurizio Sarri’s starting lineup demonstrated that he is going to take the competition seriously. Several Premier League starters, including Jorginho and Kante, played the full 90 minutes despite facing an away trip to local rivals West Ham next.
The Italian seems intent on showing the competition respect and the strength of his starting XI suggests that Sarri sees the Europa League as a viable route to qualify for the Champions League.
Winning the competition would also mean that Sarri follows in his predecessor’s footsteps by securing silverware in his first season.
3. Ruben Loftus-Cheek Will Continue to Struggle for Game Time
This game was an opportunity for Ruben Loftus-Cheek to gain some valuable playing time after featuring mostly from the bench this season.
The England international has been the subject of intense debate in recent weeks as many wonder if Loftus-Cheek’s development will be stunted by his lack of game time at Chelsea.
The 22-year-old travelled with the squad to Greece but failed to make it onto the pitch, settling for a spectator’s role from the substitutes bench. As the competition progresses, the Europa League may still be Loftus-Cheek’s best opportunity to play for Chelsea this season.
2. Ross Barkley Still Has a Role at Chelsea
Ross Barkley is another player who has struggled for playing time since moving to Chelsea, but showed the qualities he has to offer in the victory over PAOK. The former Everton man was one of the better performers in Greece and provided an assist for the winning goal.
Barkley will be keen to push for a starting place in Sarri’s side and the Europa League may give the 24-year-old the chance to impress his new manager, helping him to push new signing Matteo Kovacic for a starting place.
1. Hazard Is Vital to Chelsea’s Success
Chelsea’s performance against PAOK was not the resounding win that some fans may have anticipated. The Blues dominated possession and restricted the chances that PAOK created, but were unable to find the all important second goal which would have killed the game.
Eden Hazard’s spark was evidently missing and Chelsea did struggle to create clear chances in his absence.
Based on this performance, it is clear that the London side must keep their talisman fit if they are to compete in the Premier League this season.