Chelsea are into the knockout stages of the Europa League, with a draw for the Round of 32 coming up on Monday*, but we had already known that even before kick-off in Budapest against MOL Vidi last night. That made the occasion rather meaningless for us, with nothing but pride and statistical oddities left to fight for on a freezing night in the Hungarian capital.
(*potential opponents include: Viktoria Plzeñ, Club Brugge, Shakhtar Donetsk, Galatasaray, Zürich, Celtic, Slavia Prague, Fenerbahçe, Olympiakos, Rapid Vienna, Lazio, Malmö FF, Krasnodar, Rennes, Sporting Lisbon)
But even if attentions were thus diverted to yet another shameful episode of anti-semitic chanting from a segment of Chelsea fans, some good did come out of the 90 minutes. Both Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ethan Ampadu played the full game (as did Andreas Christensen and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to complete an academy quartet), and we got to witness a couple excellent free-kicks, one from Willian’s right foot (not surprising) and one from Giroud’s left (very surprising!).
Giroud doesn’t get to take free kicks very often, if at all, and he was chuffed with his effort that flew over not only the wall but the extra man placed on the goal line as well!
“I’m happy with my free-kick. I don’t normally have the chance to take them, Willi is in front, but I asked if I could take it and luckily it went in.”
Giroud has now scored five goals in the past month — four of them in the Europa League — and he will need to keep that up as Chelsea head into the festive fixtures. Álvaro Morata limped off at half-time last night with an apparent knee injury, which, even if minor, will likely force him to miss a few games at least.
Chelsea will certainly have to show a bit more cut and thrust than against the Hungarian champions.
“It was good from me because I scored but I can’t be happy because we wanted the win. We are a competitive team and we want to win every single game.
“The problem was that we played against a very compact team, they defended very well in their half and we struggled a bit to get the ball high up the pitch like usual. They did well and deserved a point but at the end of the game we could have scored a third goal, it’s a shame, we had opportunities. It was difficult because the pitch was a bit bobbly so we struggled to play one-touch and two-touch, we had some difficulties creating chances. In the end we could have won but I think a draw was a fair result because they were still dangerous until the end.”
The Europa League will pick back up in mid-February, by which time Chelsea’s squad could look a bit different while the team will have hopefully continues to improve in implementing Sarri’s ideas and strategies.
Giroud, whose contract is set to expire at the end of the season, is of course hoping to celebrate at least one trophy before then. After all, that’s why he joined Chelsea in what seems like a forever ago, but was actually just at the start of this calendar year.
“The group was, maybe on paper, not so hard, but we normally won the games by one or two goals, so they were always tough games. Even in this game, MOL Vidi had chances until the end [and] we know we are going to face strong opposition in the future.
“Our target is obviously to win it [the competition], we know we will have strong opposition after the group stage, but that’s the target.”
-Olivier Giroud; source: Chelsea FC
So say we all.