Pe­dro is Blues saviour as Hazard gam­ble pays off

Daily Mail - - Europa League - ADAM CRAFTON

FOR Mau­r­izio Sarri, a night of rare vindi­ca­tion. It has not hap­pened too often for the Ital­ian dur­ing his de­but sea­son in English foot­ball but in the Frank­furt fur­nace, the man­ager had the coolest head.

When the teamsheets emerged, the tone of the evening was set.

For a Euro­pean semi- fi­nal, Chelsea’s best player Eden Hazard was on the bench. It was a po­ten­tially calami­tous call.

Chelsea have crashed and burned away from home against far worse sides than Ein­tra­cht Frank­furt this sea­son and Hazard has often been a one-man tor­nado, swirling away from op­po­nents and turbo- charg­ing Chelsea’s hopes and dreams. Yet from Sarri’s per­spec­tive, it was log­i­cal. the Ital­ian is sim­ply try­ing to stay in a job and he has cal­cu­lated that Chelsea’s most prob­a­ble route to the Cham­pi­ons league is through a top-four fin­ish in the Premier league.

now two points clear of Arse­nal, Chelsea can win two games — Wat­ford at home, le­ices­ter away — and they are back among the elite. Keep Hazard fresh for those and the Bel­gian should see his team over the line.

Yet Hazard, surely keen to end his Chelsea ca­reer with a medal around his neck next month, will not have wel­comed the call.

He did ar­rive on the hour, by which time Frank­furt’s fran­tic tempo had slowed, and he helped Chelsea to a cred­itable draw.

It helped, too, that Sarri’s team demon­strated a re­solve that has not al­ways been ap­par­ent this sea­son. In­deed, Chelsea were quite ex­cel­lent in the sec­ond pe­riod, mer­it­ing a win as the de­rided Jorginho, per­ceived as flimsy and light­weight, did his best terry Butcher im­pres­sion when he sol­diered on with a ban­dage around his head (right).

Along­side Jorginho, Ruben lof­tus-Cheek grew in promi­nence and once again made you won­der why and how Ma­teo Ko­vacic has so often been se­lected ahead of him this sea­son.

Yet when luka Jovic scored mid­way through the first half, this had the mak­ings of a per­ilous night. In­stead, Chelsea re­sponded by se­cur­ing parity and a cru­cial away goal by half time.

Still, the Hazard omis­sion did speak for the pe­cu­liar pri­or­i­ties of the mod­ern game. Chelsea, we should re­mem­ber, have won only four ma­jor Euro­pean tro­phies in their en­tire his­tory and Sarri is still to win any sil­ver­ware at all. Evenings such as these should not be taken for granted.

While English clubs treat the

Europa League as a pesky means to a glo­ri­ous Cham­pi­ons League end, it the op­por­tu­nity of a life­time for more mod­est clubs such as Frank­furt.

This semi-fi­nal is the club’s first since the Ger­man team lifted the tro­phy in 1980 and all sides of the sta­dium filled up 45 min­utes be­fore kick-up. A heady blur of colour and sound made for a deaf­en­ing, in­tim­i­dat­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

Chelsea, hardly the grit­ti­est vis­i­tors even when Hazard starts, looked shell- shocked for the open­ing half-hour but Sarri’s team did not help them­selves.

Pe­dro lost three 50/ 50 chal­lenges in the first ten min­utes alone.

Lof­tus-Cheek twice gave up pos­ses­sion cheaply as Frank­furt’s play­ers matched their breath­less sup­port­ers, press­ing Chelsea into sub­mis­sion. Chelsea have en­joyed a gen­er­ous run in this com­pe­ti­tion, travers­ing much of East­ern Europe and dip­ping into Scan­di­navia. Yet Frank­furt are a se­ri­ous out­fit and in 21-year- old Jovic, they pos­sess one of the con­ti­nent’s most gifted tal­ents. Frank­furt bat­tered Shakhtar Donetsk on this ground and have since knocked out In­ter Mi­lan and Ben­fica. The lead came in the 23rd minute and it was a mag­nif­i­cent demon­stra­tion of Jovic’s qual­i­ties. Olivier Giroud slop­pily con­ceded pos­ses­sion and Frank­furt sped away on the counter-at­tack. The ball was worked left to Filip Kos­tic, who planted a left­footed cross which seemed to be be­hind Jovic — but the Ser­bian stooped, arched his neck and steered a fab­u­lous header into the cor­ner of the goal. Lit­tle won­der that Real Madrid and Barcelona are en­gaged in a race to sign the striker.

Frank­furt briefly threat­ened to run amok yet Chelsea set­tled them­selves. Pe­dro rasped a shot wide and Lof­tus-Cheek then found space and drove past the post.

The equaliser came on the cusp of half-time, as Pe­dro took the ball down in­side the penalty area and placed a left-footed strike into the cor­ner. At last, the sta­dium fell silent.

Chelsea play­ers re­turned early for the sec­ond pe­riod and found their stride. Frank­furt ap­peared run down by their ear­lier ex­er­tions and Chelsea grew in author­ity. Lof­tus- Cheek spear­headed the charge, drop­ping a shoul­der in mid­field and gal­lop­ing to­wards goal. He ex­changed passes with Pe­dro and seemed cer­tain to score, only to skew his ef­fort over the top. Chelsea came close again, as a David Luiz free-kick smacked against the cross­bar.

Chelsea might have lost it late on, al­low­ing Frank­furt cap­tain David Abra­ham a free header.

GETTY IM­AGES ES

Level best: Pe­dro (cen­tre) e) fires home the e equaliser and (in­set, left) cel­e­brates with Giroud

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