Ruben Loftus-Cheek provided a timely reminder of his quality with a fine hat-trick in just his second start of the season as Chelsea sealed a comprehensive 3-1 win over BATE in the Europa League.
The England international has found playing time hard to come by this term, but grasped a rare chance afforded by head coach Maurizio Sarri as the Blues made it three wins from three in Group L to close on the knockout stages.
Loftus-Cheek had not scored a Chelsea goal since April 2016 before pulling off two expert finishes inside the opening eight minutes at Stamford Bridge as a Chelsea team featuring a number of fringe players overwhelmed an inferior BATE side.
The pick of his goals came in the 53rd minute to put the result beyond doubt and, despite Aleksey Rios scoring a late consolation goal for the visitors, he continued to shine on an evening that will go down as one of his best as a Chelsea player.
Davide Zappacosta sped down the right flank in the second minute and cut the ball back to Loftus-Cheek who provided a clinical finish, steering a first-time shot just to the right of goalkeeper Denis Scherbitski without hesitation.
Loftus-Cheek's second was all about his positional play, the 22-year-old arriving ahead of Olivier Giroud to apply a side-footed volley to Willian's corner and again finding the net low to Scherbitski's right.
A move that started with Loftus Cheek in his own half saw Pedro burst down the left flank and, when he was dispossessed, Chelsea's home-grown talent was on hand to guide home his hat-trick goal.
Sarri gave 17-year-old winger Callum Hudson-Odoi half an hour as a substitute and he showed glimpses of why he is considered an exciting prospect as the Blues continued to attack.
Though Chelsea switched off for a moment to allow Rios to arrive unmarked and volley Igor Stasevich's cross into the net from close range, it failed to take the shine off a more than satisfactory night for Sarri's men.
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Sarri has found a winning formula in Europe without fielding his preferred strongest line-up and will have been delighted to see the likes of Loftus-Cheek and Gary Cahill step up while Eden Hazard and David Luiz were rested.
Loftus-Cheek brings back memories of Russia
The World Cup may seem a long time ago as the UK winter draws closer but Loftus-Cheek's confident display of attacking link play and near-constant endeavour brought back memories of his best moments for England in Russia.
Hleb a shadow of his former self
Alyaksandr Hleb was a force to be reckoned with during his time at Arsenal and Barcelona but at the age of 37 he struggled to keep up with Chelsea's fast, free-flowing brand of football.
Key Opta Facts:
- Chelsea have won their first three group stage games in a season in major European competition for the first time since the 2010-11 Champions League campaign.
- Ruben Loftus-Cheek became the first English player to score a European hat-trick for Chelsea since 29th September 1971; when Peter Osgood scored five goals and Tommy Baldwin netted three against Jeunesse Hautcharage in the Cup Winners' Cup.
- Loftus-Cheek's opening goal versus BATE came with his first shot on target for Chelsea in 2018-19 (in his fourth appearance) – he then scored with his second and third shots on target of the season later in the game.
- Loftus-Cheek scored more goals in the opening 53 minutes of this match (three) as he had previously in 35 games for Chelsea (two).
- Willian's appearance in this match was his 250th in all competitions for Chelsea since joining the club in August 2013.
3 - Ruben Loftus-Cheek is the first English player to score a hat-trick in the UEFA Europa League since Harry Kane for Spurs vs Asteras Tripolis in October 2014. Treble. pic.twitter.com/zFTMnMm61h — OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 25, 2018
Chelsea, who drew 2-2 with Manchester United last weekend, travel to Turf Moor as they look to get back to winning ways in the Premier League against Burnley on Sunday, while BATE will aim to take a step closer to the league title as they face Gomel.