Full Time: BATE Borisov 0-1 Chelsea
Olivier Giroud ended his long wait for a first goal under Maurizio Sarri as Chelsea laboured to victory over BATE Borisov in chilly Belarus.
Giroud’s second-half header was enough to earn a 1-0 win and secure qualification for the Europa League knockout stages with two games to spare.
Sarri left several first team regulars in London, but included Jorginho from the off after Cesc Fabregas’ late withdrawal with illness, while Eden Hazard started his first game since the draw with Manchester United on October 20.
Ross Barkley and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were both named in Gareth Southgate’s England squad earlier in the day, and started together for Chelsea for the first time.
It was an insipid first-half showing from Chelsea, against a home side showing far more resolve than they had in the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge, when Ruben Loftus-Cheek had Chelsea 2-0 up after eight minutes.
Dmitri Baga came closest to opening the scoring in the first period, rattling the outside of the post with a cracking 25-yard strike, while Chelsea toiled with plenty of possession but almost zero penetration.
Eventually, it was a simple delivery into the box that made the breakthrough shortly after the interval, as Emerson Palmieri crossed early for Giroud to head home his third goal in as many games against BATE, with question marks over the goalkeeping.
BATE responded by striking the woodwork for a second time, this time through Nikolay Signevich, who diverted a scuffed shot off the bar with Kepa Arrizabalaga beaten.
Aleksey Rios, who scored at Stamford Bridge, should have equalised, skying over the bar from 12 yards after a clever cut back from Signevich.
Giroud came close to a second before Hazard was withdrawn just after the hour mark with an eye on Sunday’s meeting with Everton, where Chelsea will look to preserve their record as the only unbeaten team in Europe’s top five leagues.
There was a late scare when the hosts struck the woodwork for a third time deep into injury time but the Blues rode their luck one last time to see out the win.