It needed a penalty shoot-out to do it but the Blues are bound for Baku and complete a Premier League clean sweep of the four European final places this season.
It was that man Eden Hazard who planted the final spot-kick into the Shed End net to secure victory over Bundesliga opponents who had pushed us all the way but when it came to the climax, although Cesar Azpilicueta was the first to miss from the spot, Kepa Arrizabalaga was one of the night’s heroes when he saved two German penalties to set up Hazard to send Chelsea to the sixth European final in our history where Arsenal await.
In open play, Ruben Loftus-Cheek reached double figures for goals for the season to give Chelsea a first-half lead both on the night and in the tie overall, but Eintracht Frankfurt’s leading marksman Luka Jovic netted for the second time over the two legs as Chelsea’s familiar failings shortly after half-time resurfaced.
That was so frustrating for the Blues who had mostly been in control in the opening 45 minutes although we had needed an excellent Kepa save to prevent the Bundesliga side from taking a lead. At the other end we had a David Luiz header cleared off the line shortly before Loftus-Cheek’s fourth Europa League goal, crafted by Eden Hazard, gave as the advantage.
In the second half after the scores drew level, there was ragged play from both sides as the match become one of attack then counter-attack. The drama and pressure of a European semi-final was there for all to see. Both goalkeepers had to make saves, all from shots from distance, as the teams could not be separated over the scheduled 180 minutes of the tie.
Extra-time was not able to decide the outcome either, even though it was packed with incident, with the Blues sending shots wide and Frankfurt having two attempts cleared off the line in as many minutes, before former Paris St-Germain goalkeeper Kevin Trapp kept out fierce shots from full-backs Emerson Palmieri and Davide Zappacosta.
When the shoot-out began, Ross Barkley scored our first before Azpi saw the second saved in the bottom corner. Frankfurt netted their first three but then failed with the next two, Kepa saving a straight one by trapping it with his knee! Jorginho and David Luiz redeemed themselves for shoot-out misses in the Carabao Cup final before Hazard completed the job. One Step Beyond!
Maurizio Sarri began with Hazard on the bench a week ago to give him a rest but tonight the Belgian star was back in the starting 11. The hamstrung N’Golo Kante needed replacing however so Loftus-Cheek, who had come on when the injury occurred against Watford on Sunday, was selected from the beginning of this game, and subsequently rewarded that choice.
Willian and Olivier Giroud completed the attack, two changes from the weekend, and Emerson ame in for Marcos Alonso at left-back. In total there were four changes from the Watford win.
The visitors were able to recall striker Ante Rebic who was suspended for the first leg but their second highest scorer in the competition, Sebastien Haller, who was out with injury a week ago was only fit enough to return to the bench.
History was with us before the game started. No German side had ever won at Stamford Bridge and the first-half performance suggested that would continue.
Kepa comfortably saved an early header from Jovic from a corner but the first real opening was Chelsea’s even if it took 10 minutes to arrive. The chance was created by a burst of pace on the outside by Willlian. Unfortunately Giroud failed to connect properly with the low cross at the near post and when Loftus-Cheek went for it at the far post, he looked to be bundled over by Danny da Costa. The crowd called for a penalty, the Romanian referee did not agree. In fairness, there was not much of an appeal from the Chelsea player.
On 14 minutes and for the second game running, Kepa was asked to pull off a top-class save with the score at 0-0. At the same end of the ground but in the opposite top corner of his net than against Watford, the Spaniard kept out Da Costa’s fiercely struck volley.
It had been a largely unremarkable opening to the game but steadily Chelsea racked up the pressure.
David Luiz found a way out to the left wing midway through the first half and tested Eintracht with a cross, before two minutes later it was the more regular supply line of Emerson out there sending the ball across low. This time Giroud did get the touch he wanted as he made a near-post run, but Trapp in the Germans’ goal saved.
The balls kept coming over from that flank. Another minute further on Willian fired over a free-kick. David Luiz headed on target but a white shirt was back in the right spot to clear off the line.
When the goal came in the 28th-minute however, it all about Hazard, and Loftus-Cheek’s run and finish. Eintracht Frankfurt’s captain David Abraham was left embarrassed by our no.10’s twists and turns and when Loftus-Cheek collected Hazard’s pass wide inside the area, his finish across the keeper and just inside the far post was precision itself. 1-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate. We were on our way.
Before half-time Simon Falette was booked for a nasty studding of Willian’s calf which understandably angered the Brazilian. When play restarted, Chelsea broke swiftly and another Loftus-Cheek shot was deflected wide.
All was looking good at half-time but unfortunately this season’s recurring woes at the start of a second half were to return.
Eintracht had just had an appeal for a penalty for handball turned down when they equalised. As in the first leg it was Jovic who did the damage. In Germany he headed his side in front, in London it was a carefully placed shot past Kepa that drew them level, after his combination with Mijat Gacinovic had been too well-crafted for the Chelsea defence.
Giroud could have rapidly restored the lead but the Europa League’s now joint-topscorer (Jovic had just pulled level with him) stabbed his shot wide after collecting a Hazard back-heel, to his own visible frustration.
An hour had almost been played when Gacinovic’s swerving shot was punched out by Kepa.
We survived a series of wayward shots towards our goal after that but were dealt another set-back when Andreas Christensen was forced off. The young Dane had suffered several blows throughout the game and this latest was one too many. Gary Cahill was on the bench but Sarri opted to move Azpilicueta inside and bring on Zappacosta for his 50th Chelsea appearance. Within a couple of minutes, the Italian right-back very nearly restored our lead. He hit a shot from 25 yards out which bounced on the damp turf and was paddled out unconvincingly by Trapp.
Azpilicueta saw yellow for sliding in on Gacinovic. Our skipper could certainly have no complaints, and he gave away a free-kick in a dangerous area moments later. Former Swansea man Jonathan De Guzman, on as a sub, fired it into the wall.
The game was inside the final five minutes of normal time when Giroud tested Trapp from distance, but the door was not open.
We had the nerve-jangling experience of facing a Frankfurt corner in the final seconds of five minutes added time but the visitors’ header was off-target. The tie was to have extra-time.
Substitute Barkley, also making his 50th appearance, curled a shot wide, Azpilicueta volleyed a corner over and the Blues failed to make the most of a four-on-two counter-attack as we began the additional minutes the stronger. But then with 10 of those played, David Luiz spectacularly hooked a shot from substitute Sebastien Haller out just before it crossed the line.
With the last action of the first period of extra-time, Haller was denied again, this time when Zappacosta nodded clear a header that was otherwise going in.
In the second period, the surging Emerson drew a diving save from Trapp before the former PSG keeper tipped over a rocket from Zappacosta.
There was then major drama when Azpilicueta bundled the ball into the visitors net and the crowd and Chelsea players interpreted the referee’s signal to mean goal. Instead he had decided a foul on the keeper so it was over to both goalies and the lists of penalty takers to determine who was going to the final.
Eintracht Frankfurt went first
Haller scored 0-1
Barkley scored 1-1
Jovic scored 1-2
Azpilicueta saved 1-2
De Guzman scored 1-3
Jorginho scored 2-3
Hinteregger saved 2-3
David Luiz scored 3-3
Paciencia saved 3-3
Hazard scored 4-3
Chelsea (4-3-3): Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen (Zappacosta 73), David Luiz, Emerson; Kovacic, Jorginho, Loftus-Cheek (Barkley 86), Willian (Pedro 62), Giroud (Higuain 96), Hazard.
Unused subs Caballero, Alonso, Cahill.
Scorer Loftus-Cheek 28
Booked Kovacic 49, Azpilicueta 82.
Eintracht Frankfurt (3-4-1-2):Trapp; Abraham (c), Hinteregger, Falette; Da Costa, Rode (De Guzman 70), Hasebe, Kostic; Gacinovic (Paciencia 118); Jovic, Rebic (Haller 90+2).
Unused subs Ronnow, N'Dicka, Fernandes, Chandler.
Scorer Jovic 49
Booked Falette 38, Rode 40, Abraham 90, De Guzman 90+1
Referee Ovidiu Hategan from Romania