Olivier Giroud’s fantastic four flattens Sevilla as Chelsea claim top spot

Olivier Giroud’s fantastic four flattens Sevilla as Chelsea claim top spot

“Everyone loves Olivier Giroud,” Jorginho said before this game and they were even more enamoured with him by the end of it. The man who scored the late goal in France last week got four – yes, four – more of them in Spain, a cool authority about the way that he defeated Sevilla. Two delicate, classy finishes, were followed by a superb header that completed his hat-trick, and then he scored a penalty, departing as applause echoing around the Sánchez Pizjuán having taken Chelsea to first place in the group.

It had been an enjoyable occasion, more so than many had expected. Sure, first place was a target – a “trophy” in fact, according to Sevilla’s sporting director, Monchi – but with both sides through there was nothing really to play for, except perhaps football itself. And when it’s like this, football is fun. When Chelsea are like this, they’re fun too – even in the absence of their usual starters, Frank Lampard making nine changes from the weekend. Especially in their absence, in fact. It was what gave the Frenchman the chance to make this night his night.

Sevilla too rotated, and ultimately Chelsea were just too good for them. In total, Julen Lopetegui made seven changes from the side that had taken Sevilla’s wining run to five last Saturday. That, at least, was the plan but it was soon eight when Tomas Vaclik pulled out after the warm-up leaving B team goalkeeper Alfonso Pastor to start. The 20-year old was just 30 seconds into his debut when he pushed a way a sharp Kai Havertz shot at the near post, an indication of the way the opening minutes were going to be.

Pastor was in for a busy night, Christian Pulisic deep inside his area when he spun and shot wide four minutes later and only two more minutes passed before Chelsea took the lead. Pulisic found Giroud, who shifted and bent a neat finish into the far corner. Now that they were getting a game, Chelsea’s players appeared determined to enjoy it. They seemed to find it easy too, Sevilla unexpectedly open. Even when the home side did find a way into the game, there was menace every time Lampard’s players sprang forward, which was often. Pulisic and Havertz were a constant threat.

Pastor save from Pulisic running into the left channel and from the corner Antonio Rüdiger’s header was cleared off the line. Not long after, the American bent a shot past the post. Sevilla had taken a step forward, though, and this was becoming quite a fun night of football. A competitive one too, the shouts and the thuds echoing around. By half-time these two teams had racked up 17 shots between them.

Youssef En-Nesyri almost caught out Mendy from inside the centre circle and there were three shooting opportunities for Ivan Rakitic: a free kick blocked, a shot from the edge of the area after a neat backheel set Óscar free, and then a bouncing ball hit over at the near post. Franco Vázquez too had a shot charged down and there was a long wait for word from the remote VAR room in Nyon after a long, loud shout for a handball inside the Chelsea box, but nothing was given.

Sevilla hadn’t given up, although their resistance wouldn’t last much longer. An outrageous scooped pass from Jesús Navas saw Nemanja Gudelj start the second half off with a vicious, swerving shot that flew just over the bar. But it was Chelsea who struck soon after, effectively ending this, Kovacic nudging a clever ball with the outside of the foot through the gap for Giroud, inside the area. With Pastor coming out, the Frenchman, lifted it gently over him, the ball floating into the net, a lovely, smooth finish that drew a big smile from Lampard, clapping on the touchline.

Both sides changed and in threes, but the game didn’t, Mason Mount coming on and immediately bringing a superb save from Pastor. Again, Chelsea had gone all the way through. And they had not finished yet. They weren’t even finished when Giroud headed in the third to complete a hat-trick. A fourth followed late on, this time from the penalty spot. There was only one man to take it.