Chelsea sealed their progress to the Champions League knockout stage with two games to spare as Olivier Giroud‘s late header secured victory at Rennes.
The French striker has played just 127 minutes for the Blues so far this season, but made the most of his time on the pitch here with an injury-time finish after Timo Werner’s effort had been blocked.
Just six minutes earlier, Rennes looked to have denied Chelsea when Serhou Guirassy headed home from a corner to cancel out Callum Hudson-Odoi’s opener.
Frank Lampard’s side dominated the first half and could easily have led by more than just Hudson-Odoi’s calm finish after he had been sent clear by a pinpoint pass from Mason Mount.
They invited the home side on in the second half and had to rely on a defence that included the returning Thiago Silva and goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, who made a couple of good saves against his former club.
A late winner for Sevilla means both they and the Blues have 10 points in Group E, nine more than both Rennes and Krasnodar. Lampard spoke before Tuesday’s match of Chelsea’s need to get their Champions League business done early and will be delighted with the outcome.
Almost as important as sealing qualification is the fact Chelsea can now rest players for the final two group games, which come during a relentless December packed with tough fixtures.
Their remaining games – against Sevilla and Krasnodar – fall between league fixtures against Tottenham, Leeds and Everton as part of eight games in a month.
They will want to take the clash in Spain more seriously, with Julen Lopetegui’s side having matched the Blues in a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge and their only rivals for top spot, which in theory brings an easier tie in the last 16.
They will be full of confidence, though, having won six matches on the spin since following up that Sevilla stalemate with another at Manchester United in late October.
Tuesday’s victory could have been a bit less stressful for them had they finished the two other clear-cut chances that fell their way during their early dominance.
However, either side of Hudson-Odoi‘s goal, Werner somehow found a way to scoop a shot from six yards over the bar and Mount saw a poked effort clawed wide by home keeper Alfred Gomis.
Rennes deserved the leveller when it came towards the end of a second-half display that was full of endeavour but so often short of ruthlessness in front of goal. It is clear to see why they had gone over five hours without a goal prior to Guirassy’s header.
But Chelsea recovered to take the points thanks to the ever-reliable Giroud, who was sent on by Lampard in the 69th minute and rewarded his boss in the 91st with his 30th goal for the club.
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