Slavia Prague 0-1 Chelsea
Marcus Alonso scored the only goal to give Chelsea victory over Slavia Prague in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final.
The Spaniard powered home Willian’s right-wing cross to secure victory for the Londoners with just four minutes remaining in the Czech Republic.
It was far from a vintage performance by the Blues, but a fourth successive victory without conceding should ease some of the pressure that had been building on manager Maurizio Sarri in recent weeks.
Eden Hazard, who scored twice in Monday’s win over West Ham, was dropped to the bench as Sarri made seven changes to his side, perhaps with Sunday’s trip to Anfield in mind.
With the Belgian sat on the bench, Chelsea struggled to create much against a well-organised Slavia defence.
The Czech side, seven points clear at the top of their domestic league, have only lost three times since October and more than held their own.
Brazilian Willian had the only opportunity of the first half when his fizzing effort from 20 yards smashed the crossbar.
That was the only real moment of excitement during the first period that featured just one shot on target and one corner from either side.
Chelsea claimed for a penalty at the start of the second half when Ross Barkley went down, but their claims were waved away by referee Felix Zwayer.
With Chelsea struggling to create many openings Sarri soon turned to Hazard, introducing the forward 13 minutes into the second half.
The Premier League side belatedly brought Ondrej Kolar into action when Antonio Rudiger’s low drive was well stopped by the feet of the Slavia goalkeeper.
Kepa Arrizabalaga was then brought into action for the first time at the other end when he did well to parry away Ibrahim Traore’s powerful strike.
Jorginho had the ball in the net for Chelsea but the strike was ruled out with Olivier Giroud offside in the build-up.
Kepa then did well to keep out a half-volley from Jan Boril as the game belatedly sparked into life.
The match looked to be heading towards a goalless draw before Alonso’s late intervention, his stooping header beating Kolar for just his third goal of the season to put Chelsea in control going into next week’s second leg at Stamford Bridge.