Our last-four European tie begins on the banks of the Main in the middle of Germany. Club historian Rick Glanvill and club statistician Paul Dutton set the semi-final scene…
Handily placed after the past week’s top-flight results, Chelsea now hope to pursue this second avenue to a Champions League return all the way to Baku. Both teams hold fourth place in their respective leagues, yet the Premier League has four competitors in the two UEFA competitions, while Frankfurt are the Bundesliga’s last man standing.
So far, the Londoners’ 11 Europa League victories have set a new national record over a single continental campaign, surpassing the 10 achieved by Manchester United and Newcastle. Now comes the chance to inflict Eintracht Frankfurt’s first home defeat by an English side since 1967, when Nottingham Forest won 1-0 in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup.
The Blues’ current run, taking in the last three matches of the victorious 2012/13 campaign, also equals the record of 15 games unbeaten in the Europa League. Frankfurt are novices in the Europa League’s last four, reaching this stage in Europe for the first time in 39 years, when they won the UEFA Cup, and have impressed with their dynamism.
This is Chelsea’s ninth major European semi-final appearance under the ownership of Roman Abramovich. No club across Europe has appeared in more.
— Key stat
Chelsea and Frankfurt are the leading scorers left in the competition, with 30 and 28 goals respectively to their credit (each also has the most headed goals: four). Between us, the two sides have played 24 games in the Europa league this season with only one defeat, the Eagles’ quarter-final leg at Benfica.
Tonight’s opposing sides also boast the top marksmen left in the competition in Olivier Giroud and Luka Jovic. The last player to score more than 10 in a Europa League campaign was onetime Blue Radamel Falcao, who notched 12 for Atletico Madrid in 2011/12.
Europa League goals
Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) 10
Wissam Ben Yedder (Sevilla*) 8
Munas Dabbur (Salzburg*) 8
Luka Jovic (Frankfurt) 8
Fredrik Gulbrandsen (Salzburg*) 5
Sebastien Haller (Frankfurt) 5
Giovani Lo Celso (Real Betis*) 5
*No longer in competition
Of those players left in the competition, Chelsea’s Willian and Mijat Gacinovic of Frankfurt have set up the most goals for team-mates.
Europa League assists
Willian (Chelsea) 7
Igor Stasevich (BATE*) 7
Mijat Gacinovic (Frankfurt) 5
Andreas Ulmer (Salzburg*) 5
Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) 4
Pedro (Chelsea) 4
*No longer in competition
Eintracht equates to ‘United’ in English football terms and they are the product of a merger between Kickers and Viktoria way back in 1911. Wearing a combined kit of black and red, the new club adopted the Eintracht moniker nine years later.
The Eagles qualified for this competition by winning their first major silverware since 1988, Germany’s FA Cup, but have their place in European football folklore.
They won the UEFA Cup in 1979/80 but are most famous for being honourably thrashed. The occasion was the 1959/60 European Cup final at Hampden Park, where they lost 3-7 to Real Madrid, the legendary Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano scoring the Spaniards’ goals.
Although Frankfurt have scaled new heights in this competition and are set to register their highest Bundesliga finish for 26 years, the only win in their past five games in all competitions was Benfica’s visit. The lull coincides with Sebastien Haller’s absence through injury.
At home in the league they are winless in two, drawing 0-0 with Salomon Kalou’s Hertha Berlin having lost 1-3 to strugglers Augsberg. Their Bundesliga campaign has shown a tendency towards fading in the second half of matches, and more than a third of their conceded goals have come after the 75th minute.
Centre-back Martin Hinteregger dismissed concerns about fatigue, however. ‘We’re in good shape physically, it wasn't down to fitness,’ he claimed. ‘On Thursday we’ll play differently. It’ll be another massive fight.’
This is Chelsea’s 14th semi-final in all European competitions since 1966, and the ninth since 2003 – a tally matched only by Barcelona.
The Blues are the capital’s most successful continental combatants. Tottenham, who lost at home Ajax on Tuesday, are in the last four for the first time since 1984 and eighth overall, while for Arsenal, at home to Valencia this evening, this is the ninth semi-final and second in succession.
This semi-final pits the king of the beasts against the rex of the raptors when it comes to club mascots. Chelsea have a ‘lion rampant’ on our shirts and Stamford and Bridget pitch-side, and Frankfurt’s badge and nickname derive from the eagle on their city’s coat of arms.
The Europa League quarter-final games against their Portuguese equivalents, Benfica, both had a live bird of prey in the stadium. While bald eagles Vitoria or Gloriosa wow the Stadium of Light crowd with their swooping flights before kick-off, Frankfurt’s golden eagle, Attila, will remain talon-tight to the gauntlet of his handler tonight.
Troy Deeney has served the suspension that followed his dismissal for violent conduct against Arsenal and is available for Watford’s visit to the Bridge on Sunday.
After giving their all in the Champions League semi-finals, Chelsea Women’s final fixtures of the WSL season are both on the road: at Yeovil on Tuesday and Reading the following Saturday.
Several of last weekend’s beaten UEFA Youth League final players could be involved in the Development Squad’s final PL2 game of the season at Brighton’s Amex Training Centre on Friday 3 May, kick off 7pm.
HOW THEY REACHED THE SEMI-FINALS
So will the Eagles suffer Heartache Tonight, or will the Blues have to Take It To The Limit in the second leg at Stamford Bridge?
An away goal or two always comes in handy: in the event of a tie after 90 minutes plus stoppages next Thursday, the team with more away goals will secure a place in the final.
THE BEST THAT CAN HAPPEN THIS EVENING…
A big step towards Baku.
Semi-final first leg fixtures
Arsenal v Valencia 8pm
Frankfurt v Chelsea 8pm