It may also be known as the last eight, but the quarter-finals have rarely signalled the end of our European adventures, and we are well placed for a fourth consecutive victory in continental quarters after taking a 1-0 lead against Slavia Prague.
In our entire history, Chelsea have only ever exited a European competition at this stage twice, in 2000 and 2011, compared to 13 victories over the two-legged ties so far. We have also emerged victorious in the quarter-finals the last three times in a row that we have reached the last eight.
The second of those three came in our only other Europa League campaign, when we went all the way to the final in Amsterdam and lifted the trophy by beating Benfica 2-1 in 2012/13.
On that occasion, or opponents in the quarter-finals were Russian side Rubin Kazan, who had proved to be that competition’s surprise package by topping their group thanks to a 3-0 win over Inter Milan, before knocking out Spanish duo Atletico Madrid and Levante, largely thanks to their home form.
A trip to Stamford Bridge seemed to be too much for them, though, as our victory never looked in doubt from the moment Fernando Torres – wearing a protective mask after breaking his nose against Steaua Bucharest in the previous round – got the first of his two goals in the 16th minute, Victor Moses also finding the net in a 3-1 win.
However, Rubin Kazan proved to be a much tougher opponent on home soil when we travelled to Russia, despite Torres scoring again to give us the lead after just four minutes. Moses also got another goal, but the home side refused to give in and eventually won 3-2 on the night, courtesy of their second penalty over the two legs. However, our performance at the Bridge was enough to give us a 5-4 win on aggregate that was more comfortable than it sounded thanks to Moses’ crucial second away goal.
That was the second season in a row we lifted a European trophy, having famously secured our first-ever Champions League triumph the previous year. Then, it was our 2013 Europa League final opponents Benfica who we met in the last eight.
We made no mistake on that away trip as Salomon Kalou swept in Torres’ cross to give us a 1-0 win in Lisbon, with Juan Mata also rattling the post, although we did require a fine goal-line clearance from David Luiz to secure our victory at his former club.
We finished the job in west London as Frank Lampard gave us a margin for error from the penalty spot. Javi Garcia’s headed goal for Benfica did make things a little nervy towards the end but then Raul Meireles, who had received constant abuse from the away fans throughout the match due to his Sporting Lisbon past, got the last laugh as he surged upfield and smashed in a spectacular effort from the edge of the box to book our place in the semis. The rest, as they say, is history.
Our most recent European quarter-final was in the 2013/14 Champions League, against Paris Saint-Germain, and was a great example of why you should never give up in a two-legged continental tie.
The French side already had one eye on the semi-finals after they beat us 3-1 at Parc des Princes in the first leg, but Eden Hazard’s away goal from the penalty spot gave us hope we could turn things around at Stamford Bridge.
The early loss of Hazard to injury in the second leg dampened spirits a bit, but it was the man who replaced him, Andre Schurrle, who lifted them again by opening the scoring after 32 minutes, converting when David Luiz flicked on Branislav Ivanovic’s long throw.
That set up a nervous hour as we chased the second goal that would put us through. When it finally did arrive, as we were just three minutes from elimination, it was a Paris-born childhood PSG fan who scored it. Demba Ba was the man who reacted quickest in the scramble after Cesar Azpilicueta’s shot to put the ball in the net and the Blues in the semis on away goals.
Hopefully the latest crop of Chelsea players can extend that run to four consecutive European quarter-final victories when Slavia Prague come to Stamford Bridge for the second leg of this season’s tie next Thursday evening. That would also maintain our record of having won all six of our quarter-finals in the Europa League and its predecessor competitions the Cup Winners’ Cup and Fairs Cup.