Malmo 1 Chelsea 2: Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud end away day blues for Maurizio Sarri as Chelsea secure Europe League advantage

Yet the jury is still out on his acclaimed ‘Sarri ball’ philosophy after a win that looks far more secure on paper than it did on grass last night.

Once Olivier Giroud cleverly flicked home goal number two with the inside of his right heel in the 58th minute it was time to open the shoulders and for Chelsea to ping passes around like an exhibition game.

But as a bunch of top class players battles to get to grips with their manager’s demands for highbrow football, there is a lingering tendency to make everything look hard work when it should be the exact opposite.

And as per the script at the moment, Chelsea did precisely that by conceding a goal with ten minutes remaining just to make sure they could not enjoy a much-needed win until the final whistle eventually blew.

Goals in each half from Ross Barkley and Giroud appeared to have put the game to bed and so they should have done.

Malmo were gutsy and game but in reality were as surprised as anyone to be in it for so long.

Dressed up like Manchester City in sky blue that’s where the similarities to the cavalier English champions ended. They were bruising and brutal but unlike wobbly Chelsea played to their strengths.

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Maybe haunting memories of last Sunday’s 6-0 hammering at City put Chelsea off their stride because something is gnawing away at them. Even in victory.

Sarri raised eyebrows even before departure on Wednesday by leaving out of sorts left back Marcos Alonso back home to ‘rest’ ahead of Monday’s FA cup fifth round tie with Manchester United.

His team selection for the game itself 24 hours later was even more curious. Just when the fans wanted him to roll out the first team in a bid for a handsome win and to undo the damage from recent results, Sarri went and surprised us all again.

Eden Hazard and Gonzaloa Higuain, the two main goal threats in a struggling to score at the moment were left on the bench. His best defender Antonio Rudiger was also a sub – although the German has been carrying a knee knock.

Sarri plumped for Olivier Giroud as his lead striker – who has scored once since last November.

As expected, bombproof Jorginho was plonked slap, bang at the heart of the team in midfield.

Regardless of the reshuffle it was the same old Chelsea. Slick when the elaborate passing of so-called ‘Sarri ball’ clicked, nail-bitingly terrifying for their fans when it didn’t.

And those hair-raising moments came too often, even against Swedish minnows who are just emerging from the hibernation of their winter break.

The main criticism of Sarri’s tactics are that he doesn’t appear  to have a Plan B when his short, mobile style of football is ineffective. You can throw in that Chelsea’s defenders seem to have forgotten where Row Z is.

It’s not pretty but sometimes every back four needs to pump the ball clear when the team’s under the cosh. It is evidently banned under this bloke.

As a result they put themselves under too much pressure, even against what locals consider to be the weakest team left in the entire Europa League – and that’s saying something.

Style conscious Sarri’s brand of football looks overcooked. Too many small intricate parts, even for the birthplace of the IKEA wardrobe.

Barkley’s first goal since October was hugely welcome if a little scruffy. The industrious Pedro pumped a cross into the area yet the midfielder couldn’t get quite control of the ball and it bobbed between his legs before he finally scuffed a shot into the bottom corner of the net.

Giroud’s goal was much classier and showed how much more relaxed the team were in the second half. Breaking free from defence Jorginho found Barkley with a through ball into the centre circle.

Barkley dribbled to the edge of the box and timed his pass to Willian on the overlap.

He in turn hit a low centre and graceful Giroud flicked home his first goal since mid-December – when Malmo packed up for a few weeks rest.

In the 80th minute Chelsea were caught cold and Anders Christiansen was able to hold off a challenge and poked the ball past keeper to keep Sarri’s team and its fans on edge right to the end.

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