Sarri reveals inspiration behind Hazard decision, other things learnt from Chelsea’s Europa League clash

Chelsea boss, Maurizio Sarri, may come to rue his tactical decision for the Europa League first leg clash away at a tricky Eintracht Frankfurt side. The game may have ended in a 1-1 draw, but the Blues could have ended the night on the losing side.

The Blues fell behind to Frankfurt in the 23rd minute when a poor pass from Willian sparked a quick counter-attack from the Bundesliga side, with Filip Kostic setting up the club’s top scorer, Luka Jovic, to head in his ninth of this season’s competition.

But Chelsea fought back and levelled the match in the 45th minute through Spanish winger, Pedro, with the Premier League side then seeing a number of good chances wasted as the match ended finely poised for the return leg next Thursday at Stamford Bridge.

Until then, here are the observations made from the Commerzbank Arena:

Why no Hazard from start?

Sarri opted to leave Chelsea talisman Eden Hazard on the bench in view of Sunday’s Premier League clash with Watford. “We have to play five matches in two weeks, with the same level of importance so we need to change,” the Chelsea boss said just before the match.

He added: “Hazard is on the bench as well, for two reasons. First of all because he played the last 10 matches in a row and secondly because usually he is really able to change the match from the bench. I think after 10 matches in a row he needs to rest. I don’t want him to play for 90 minutes.”

It was a big risk, leaving the key player out for such an important tie. But then again, Sarri did say ahead of the Frankfurt trip that finishing in the Premier League top four is his priority, not winning the Europa League.

Squad depth is beginning to be stretched

Chelsea have a number of injury concerns and a pile of matches to play which could make or mar their season. Against Frankfurt, Sarri was forced to start Andreas Christensen alongside David Luiz in central defence but against a very mobile home side, the Dane struggled to keep pace.

Emerson also looked out of place for large periods of the game as he too struggled to keep pace with Frankfurt players who created chances but failed to convert them. They could end up regretting those missed chances.

Same could be said of Ruben Loftus-Cheek who struggled a bit in midfield as Jorginho and N’Golo Kante did most of the work. Still, all three were given a headache by Sebastian Rode, on loan from Borussia Dortmund.

Hazard’s importance to this team’s success cannot be overstated

The Blues lacked a cutting edge Hazard could have provided for much of the game, with their final balls in the Frankfurt area letting them down more often than not.

Only some poor defending from the home side really allowed Chelsea find a way back into the game through Pedro’s strike.

Dominance and possession do not win games, goals do

Chelsea had a poor first half and relatively better second half display at Frankfurt, but Sarri’s men failed to take advantage of the chances they created to win the game – poor final balls and wastefulness in front goal to blame.

But for all their dominance, Frankfurt could have won the game late in the game through David Abraham who ghosted into the Chelsea area and met a Sebastian Rode corner-kick with a header which, to the relief of Chelsea players, went wide of target.

Chelsea should be afraid

They may have scored a crucial away goal, but so can Frankfurt in the return leg in London next Thursday. Frankfurt only need a goal to win and qualify. In Luka Jovic, they have a potent striker and their squad is an energetic and fearless one that would take the game to the Blues next week.

Sarri and his Chelsea players should be prepared to overcome this or risk falling short of European glory.