Chelsea are in central Europe for a Europa League tie commencement. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton take a close look at our quarter-final challenge…
Chelsea will aim to lay the foundation for a 10th European semi-final appearance since 2003/04 with an assured showing in Bohemia this evening. Slavia Prague are the most easterly club left in the competition (Naples is marginally closer to the Greenwich Meridian) and are so far unbeaten in this campaign at what was known auspiciously as the Eden Arena, before it’s more recent naming as Sinobo Stadium.
Known as Sesivani (the Sewn Ones) or Cervenobili (the Red-and-Whites) the 2017/18 Czech league runners-up dropped into the Europa after coming unstitched against Dynamo Kiev in a Champions League qualifying tie way back in August.
In the Round of 16, the Blues beat the same Ukrainians 5-0 away, 8-0 on aggregate in this competition, but Slavia have produced some impressive results themselves in UEFA’s second tournament since the summer. For a start they surprisingly saw off five-time winners Sevilla 6-5 on aggregate in the last round with concerted defence then full-on attack.
Chelsea have never previously encountered tonight’s hosts, and the last time Slavia faced English opposition was a UEFA Cup group match on 6 November 2008 in Prague. Midfielder Steve Sidwell scored the only goal of the game for Aston Villa four months after leaving Chelsea.
The Red-and-Whites were recently bought by the Chinese state conglomerate, CITIC (who also own a slice of Manchester City), and are a team on the up. In 2016/17 they secured their first league title in a decade, and last summer they broke their transfer record when Peter Olayinka arrived for £2.7m. This is their first Europa League quarter-final.
Chelsea have won more games (nine) and have a better goal difference (+21) than any other side in the Europa League this season.
— Key stat
The Blues have won 12 of our past 13 fixtures in this competition, stretching back to 2012/13, when we lifted the trophy and became the first English club to win all major UEFA trophies.
However, Maurizio Sarri will not thank the domestic football authorities for scheduling West Ham on Monday, leaving two clear days between the London derby and an away quarter-final in Europe, then two again before Sunday’s league trip to Anfield.
Tonight’s hosts also had an extra two days as they played on Saturday night, winning the Prague derby at bottom-placed Dukla by five goals to one. Former Chelsea winger Miroslav Stoch weighed in with the second. Comfortable league leaders, they play the 291st Prague derby against third-placed Sparta, their bitter rivals, on Sunday.
Olivier Giroud’s treble against Dynamo in the 50th European appearance of his career took his tally over the campaign to nine. The last player to surpass that figure in a single Europa League season was Aritz Aduriz, who netted 10 times for Athletic Bilbao in 2015/16. Onetime Chelsea striker Radamel Falcao holds the all-time record for the competition with 17 for Porto in the 2010/11 campaign.
Europa League leading scorers
Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) 9
Wissam Ben Yedder (Sevilla*) 8
Munas Dabbur (Salzburg*) 8
Luka Jovic (Frankfurt) 7
Giovani Lo Celso (Real Betis*) 5
*No longer in competition
Europa League leading assists
Igor Stasevich (BATE*) 7
Willian (Chelsea) 6
Andreas Ulmer (Salzburg*) 5
Mijat Gacinovic (Frankfurt) 4
Viktor Tsygankov (Dynamo Kiev*) 4
*No longer in competition.
Chelsea’s Frenchman also has more goals than anyone in the Champions League.
When an England side featuring Callum-Hudson-Odoi wins 5-0 against Czechia, for whom Slavia’s Tomas Soucek was in the starting XI, Lukas Masopust and Milan Skoda came on, and many stayed on the bench, should anything be read into the result?
One thing is certain: Chelsea’s young winger continues to impress at the highest level.
Europa League mins-per-goal involvement aged 18 or younger
Sunday’s hosts Liverpool, who have not kept a clean sheet in the Premier League for four matches, will have had two days more than Chelsea to recover, having played their Champions League first leg on Tuesday.
Free are tickets for available to any supporters aged under 20 or over 65 for the second leg of the Women’s Champions League semi-final, when Emma Hayes’ team hope to reach the final by beating a strong Lyon side.
Chelsea’s development squad can draw level on points with third-placed Arsenal in by beating the Gunners in a PL2 match played at Stamford Bridge on Monday 15 April at 7pm. Tickets are £5, £3 concessions.
Should Chelsea progress, our opponents in the last four will be the winners of the quarter-final tie between Benfica and Eintracht Frankfurt, who meet in Lisbon this evening.
Chelsea are one of four former winners left in the competition formerly known as the UEFA Cup alongside Frankfurt, Napoli and Valencia, and are the third-best team left in the competition according to UEFA’s coefficients. Slavia rose up 14 places by beating Sevilla.
All quarter-final matches will kick off at 8pm. Chelsea and Arsenal were both originally drawn to play away first, but two clubs from the same city cannot host on the same evening. UEFA give precedence to Chelsea as FA Cup winners, so the Gunners’ tie with Napoli was reversed and their first leg is in London.
Three sections of the stadium will be closed off this evening after an appeal to postpone the punishment for crowd misbehaviour was rejected. The match is otherwise a sell-out. Slavia’s biggest European attendance this season is 19,370 for a Champions League qualifier in August.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN TONIGHT…
Quarter-final first leg fixtures
Arsenal v Napoli 8pm
Benfica v Frankfurt 8pm
Slavia Prague v Chelsea 8pm
Villarreal v Valencia 8pm