This ended up more like a bye into the Europa League quarter-finals than the perilous encounter Maurizio Sarri had rather warily foreseen. Chelsea barely broke into a sweat in dismissing a desperately naive Dynamo Kyiv, with the uneven playing surface probably representing more of a threat than overawed opponents.
The occasion lacked a competitive edge, though given Chelsea’s toils over recent months Sarri will have welcomed such a stroll. His team feel like contenders in a competition that carries the considerable prize of Champions League qualification. Their younger players are making their mark at this level, while Chelsea have the Europa League’s leading scorer in Olivier Giroud, a World Cup winner reduced to bench-warmer status in the Premier League.
The striker has managed less than an hour of top-flight football this year but celebrated a perfect hat-trick (both feet and a header) to swell his goal tally in Europe to nine in nine games. “He was very, very good,” Sarri said. “But, in the last period, every time he has been on the pitch he was able to play really very well. Olivier for us is a very important player. I’m really very happy for him.”
There were other positives, too. Callum Hudson-Odoi, on his seventh start, contributed to Chelsea’s third goal with a neatly worked assist and slid in his fourth Europa League goal this season near the end after sprinting on to Giroud’s pass. Marcos Alonso revelled in a match away from Premier League right-wingers, the Spaniard scoring one goal, assisting in another and seeing a free-kick tipped gloriously on to the angle of post and bar by the overworked Denys Boyko. The left-back returns with confidence bolstered.
Yet arguably most encouraging of all was the contribution of Ruben Loftus-Cheek. The 23-year-old has had such an anticlimactic campaign after the progress made on loan at Crystal Palace last season and with England at the World Cup. He has been hampered by recurring back problems and Sarri’s scepticism over his defensive capabilities, and may be fortunate to be retained in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the Euro 2020 qualifiers. Yet, with yoga alleviating some of the muscular complaints, this was him at his best: all power in possession, strength on the ball and deceptive pace.
When at his best, Loftus-Cheek adds a new dimension to this team’s midfield. “The potential of Loftus-Cheek is very high, physically and technically, but he is also improving tactically,” Sarri said. “He can become one of the best midfielders not only in England but in Europe.
“Callum also played very well, better in the second half, because we found the spaces and Callum in the spaces is really a very good player. I’m happy for him but he has to keep the feet on the ground because he, too, can improve more.”
Dynamo found the youth-team graduates, like Chelsea as a whole, irresistible. They managed their first attempt on target across the two legs after 141 minutes and, even if Serhiy Sydorchuk did strike a post, it was hard to fathom how they could have lost only two of 14 previous home games in European competition, so easily had they been prised apart.
Alyaksandr Khatskevich was asked if he would consider his position after this thrashing. The manager declined to respond.
His team had been deflated early, dozing at Chelsea’s first corner as Loftus-Cheek flicked on Willian’s delivery and Giroud converted left-footed at the far post. Loftus-Cheek contributed in the buildup to Giroud’s second, too, spinning away impressively from Sydorchuk before spreading the play to Alonso. The Spaniard’s centre was wonderfully weighted and placed, bypassing the Dynamo rearguard for Giroud to dart between centre-halves and convert with his right.
The first away hat-trick by a Chelsea player in continental competition since Didier Drogba at Levski Sofia in 2006 was completed with a header guided beyond Boyko from Willian’s free-kick just before the hour.
Not content with that, Giroud played a part in the team’s third, his pass sending Hudson-Odoi to the byline, with the youngster’s cross converted by Alonso. The Frenchman also slid Hudson-Odoi free to secure Chelsea’s biggest Europa League win near the end.