Chelsea continued their resurgence under Maurizio Sarri by putting one foot in the quarter-finals of the Europa League with a dominant 3-0 win over Dynamo Kiev.
Sarri’s side made it three wins in nine days thanks to goals from Pedro, Willian and substitute Callum Hudson-Odoi, but should be taking a far greater aggregate lead to Ukraine for next week’s return match.
The Blues squandered a host of chances in the first leg of the last-16 tie as Dynamo goalkeeper Denys Boyko produced an inspired display, while Pedro had a strong penalty appeal turned down.
With the Video Assistant Referee system not being used in this competition until the final, Dynamo could also have complaints about being denied a first-half spot-kick after a cross clipped the arm of Marcos Alonso during a rare foray forward.
Due to Chelsea playing their eighth game in 26 days, manager Sarri said at his pre-match press conference that he planned to rotate his fully-fit squad because of tiredness.
The Italian, who opted for six changes, would have been keen to continue the momentum gained from successive Premier League wins against London rivals Tottenham and Fulham which have seemingly dragged him back from the brink of dismissal.
Facing a limited team with only one fit striker and an ultra-defensive formation designed to frustrate, the hosts were in complete control from start to finish.
And their dominance was rewarded with 17 minutes played.
Pedro, one of the players recalled, gained possession wide on the left, drove at the Dynamo defence and, after receiving the ball back via a delightful flick from Olivier Giroud, finished clinically through the legs of keeper Boyko.
It was the Spaniard’s ninth goal of the season and he should have doubled the advantage minutes later when he fired straight at Boyko with the goal gaping following Davide Zappacosta’s low centre from the right.
Pedro was proving to be increasingly influential and was denied a strong penalty appeal in the 30th minute after being barged over in the box by Dynamo defender Tomasz Kedziora.
Slovenian referee Slavko Vincic was not interested and, unable to rely on an intervention from the VAR, waved play on.
Kiev, who showed little attacking intent, then had claims for a spot-kick of their own when a ball into the box flicked the raised arm of Alonso.
In spite of that momentary concern, the home side were extremely comfortable.
Former Barcelona forward Pedro had another attempt pushed away by Boyko having raced on to David Luiz’s raking pass, while Ross Barkley and Alonso also threatened in a one-sided opening period.
It was Sarri’s substitutions which eventually inspired the overdue additional goals, starting with the second in the 65th minute.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek, brought on in place of Barkley, was fouled on the edge of the box and Willian, formerly of Dynamo’s rivals Shakhtar Donetsk, brilliantly curled the resultant set-piece into the top left corner with Boyko this time rooted to the spot.
England midfielder Loftus-Cheek should have made an even greater impact seven minutes from time but, after being slipped in by Pedro, he poked over from inside the six-yard box.
That miss looked likely to leave the Ukrainian runners-up with a glimmer of hope going into next Thursday’s second leg, before a third in the final minute put Chelsea in a commanding position.
Loftus-Cheek was released by a superb pass from Pedro and he back-heeled into the path of Hudson-Odoi, allowing the 18-year-old forward to emphatically smash home.
- Press Association