In what had been a quiet affair, it was Marcos Alonso of all people who popped up late to score the winning goal.
Chelsea defeated Slavia Prague, 1-0 on a header in the 84th minute by Alsonso, latching onto a terrific cross from Willian to find the breakthrough. The win puts Chelsea in the driver’s seat to advance to the Europa League semifinals, with a lead and an away goal.
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The goal is a big boost for Marcos Alonso, who has struggled mightily at times this year and has been benched in recent Premier League games for Emerson as the team’s left wing back. In addition, it cools the coach’s seat ever more for Maurizio Sarri, who could still secure a top-four finish and even potentially win the Europa League.
Slavia Prague was lively and energetic in the opening half hour, putting pressure on Chelsea’s defense and pinning the Blues back in their own half for long stretches. However, Slavia never managed to get a good shot on target, with strikes either right at Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa or wife of the net.
Willian, who was dangerous all night along the wings, hit a shot off the crossbar in the 25th minute, but that was the extent of Chelsea’s dangerous chances. That is, until Eden Hazard was introduced 14 minutes into the second half. Hazard’s dribbling ability and skill on the ball forced Slavia to shade his way, which led to more Chelsea chances down Willian’s side, and eventually may have played a role in the winner.
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Elsewhere, Benfica’s 19-year-old budding star Joao Felix had himself a day, scoring a hat-trick as Benfica topped Eintracht Frankfurt, 4-2. Felix scored a hat-trick, fired home a laser into the bottom corner, and then scored on a low strike in the box. Felix also had an assist off a corner kick that was headed in. It was a heck of a match for the teenager, and if Europe’s biggest clubs weren’t already on his radar, they are now.
In Spain, former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla scored a penalty kick but it wasn’t enough as Valencia picked up a confidence-boosting 3-1 win on the road over Villarreal. Portugal international Goncalo Guedes finished with two goals for Valencia.