The Blues can take a big step towards Baku tonight by maintaining the advantage earned over our Czech opponents a week ago. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton talk Thursday night second legs…
All concluding legs of the Europa League quarter-finals kick off at 8pm UK time tonight, as a field of 213 clubs is reduced to just four survivors, two games away from the final and possible glory.
The 2013 winners Chelsea have reached 13 European semi-finals since April 1966 – seven in the Champions League, four in the Cup Winners’ Cup, and one each in the Europa League and Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. The Blues are hopefully not about to loosen our grip on a 14th.
At the same time we are pitching to equal the Europa League record of 15 successive home and away games unbeaten and to reach the last four of this competition for the second time.
We are undefeated in Europe over 11 matches, closing in on the club’s record unbeaten sequence of 14 UEFA competition matches unbeaten between 2008 and 2010. A clean sheet this evening would make it five in a row, the Blues’ best run in a UEFA tournament since the six between October 2007 and March 2008 (though that sequence included three 0-0s).
Chelsea have never been eliminated from European competition after recording a first-leg win away from home, progressing on each of the 12 previous occasions.
— Key stat
Chelsea maintained a Bohemian tradition last Thursday (and no, not drinking absinthe in a dingy garret while writing miserable poetry). Thanks to Marcos Alonso’s second European goal in as many games, all three of the Blues’ victories in Prague have come from a single goal scored inside the last 10 minutes. His predecessors were William Gallas in September 2003 and Oscar in February 2013.
Slavia were previously unbeaten at the Eden Arena in Europe this season, and the left-back’s header inflicted their first home soil defeat in a European knockout stage since Tottenham’s UEFA Cup visit in February 2008.
However, they need only look back to their performance at Genk in this season’s Round of 32 for inspiration on an away ground. The Red-and-Whites came from behind to win 4-1 in an error-strewn second leg at the home of the Belgian league leaders.
Europa League catch-up
The winner of tonight’s tie will play either Eintracht Frankfurt or Benfica in the semi-finals. The German hosts trail 2-4, having played 70-plus minutes of the first leg with 10 men after defender Evan N’Dicka’s dismissal.
Not only have Chelsea attempted the most shots in this season’s Europa League (188), earned the most corners (89), and played the most passes (7,761) with the greatest accuracy (91 per cent), but Blues players now lead the way in the scoring and setting up of goals.
Europa League leading scorers
Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) 9
Wissam Ben Yedder (Seville*) 8
Munas Dabbur (Salzburg)* 8
Luka Jovic (Frankfurt) 8
Sebastian Haller (Frankfurt) 5
Fredrick Gulbrandsen (Salzburg*) 5
Giovani Lo Celso (Real Betis*) 5
*No longer in competition
Europa League leading assists
Willian (Chelsea) 7
Igor Stasevich (BATE*) 7
Andreas Ulmer (Salzburg*) 5
Mijat Gacinovic (Frankfurt) 4
Viktor Tsygankov (Dynamo Kiev*) 4
*No longer in competition.
Chelsea dominate the figures among clubs still in the competition along with possible semi-final opponents Frankfurt. Maurizio Sarri’s second- and third-leading scorers are Academy graduates Callum Hudson-Odoi with four and Ruben Loftus-Cheek on three (alongside Willian), both of whom started at Anfield last weekend.
The visitors’ were much-changed for their 291st Prague derby at home to Sparta on Sunday. It finished 1-1, leaving the Sewn-Ones five points clear at the top of the league. Tomas Soucek, who missed last Thursday’s game through suspension but is available tonight, headed his side ahead but a swirling shot from distance deceived ’keeper Ondrej Solar for the equaliser.
The Red-and-Whites squandered several good chances, and David Luiz-doppelganger Alex Kral hit the bar from 30 yards. A VAR penalty review meant Josef Husbauer was controversially booked for simulation after tumbling over the visitors’ goalkeeper.
Meanwhile, PAOK Thessaloniki, who finished bottom of our Europa League Group L with only three points on the board, have just won the Greek league title for the first time in 34 years.
Burnley, who have a clear week ahead of their trip to the Bridge on Monday, virtually ended any lingering relegation fears by beating Cardiff 2-0 on Saturday.
With only the Champions League left to play for after Sunday’s late FA Cup heartbreak at Man City, Chelsea will be determined to secure a positive result in the semi-final first leg at Lyon on Sunday.
In eight days, two-time winners Chelsea Under-19s clash with Barcelona in the UEFA Youth League semi-finals in Nyon, Switzerland, with Hoffenheim or Porto awaiting the victors in the final.
For the second season running the winners of the Europa League will gain direct entry to the group stage of the next Champions League campaign. With a maximum of five clubs allowed per association and so many English teams in the latter stages of the two competitions, there has been some discussion as to whether a team finishing in the Premier League’s fourth automatic qualification place could lose out.
For that to happen the winners of both UEFA tournaments would have to be English sides who finished outside the top four. The unfortunate fourth would then be bumped into the Europa League.
HOW THE OTHER TIES STAND
Napoli (0) Arsenal (2)
The last time these two met, in 2013/14, each won 2-0 at home.
Valencia (3) Villarreal (1)
Villarreal have never overturned a first-leg home deficit in a UEFA tie.
Eintracht Frankfurt (2) Benfica (4)
The winners play Chelsea or Slavia Prague in the semi-finals.
Eintracht Frankfurt or Benfica will host the first leg of the semi-final on Chelsea’s side of the draw in May. The Londoners’ only previous meeting with Europa League quarter-finals novices Frankfurt came in an August 1966 friendly watched by 6,000 at their Waldstadion home. Winger Wolfgang Solz scored the only goal of the game.
The Blues’ first encounter with Benfica was also non-competitive: an International Charity Cup game at the Bridge on October 1964 attended by 23,369 for the benefit of the Jewish National Fund. The great Eusebio and co. beat Tommy Docherty’s young side 4-2. More recently, of course, the Londoners saw off the Portuguese en route to the 2012 Champions League and 2013 Europa League finals.
The away goals rule applies at 90 minutes tonight so the match will end after normal time plus stoppages unless Slavia Prague are leading 1-0. In that event, extra-time will be played and, if necessary, a penalty shoot-out will take place in the A-B-A-B format.
Chelsea have won one of our four penalty shoot-outs in UEFA contests (the 2012 Champions League final) and lost three. Slavia succeeded in both their two, most recently in 2008.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN TONIGHT…
Into the 24th major semi-final since Roman Abramovich became owner.