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Familiar foes

Facing domestic opposition in this year’s Europa League final may seem like a novelty, but it isn’t as rare for Chelsea as you might think, and this is the second time we have come up against Arsenal in continental competition.

Much has been made of both the Europa League and Champions League finals being contested between two Premier League teams this season, with both finalists in the former coming from London, but this will actually be the 10th time we have played a domestic rival in continental competition.

Our record across the nine previous occasions has been pretty even, with four wins, four defeats and a couple of goalless stalemates with Liverpool when we faced an English side in the Champions League group stage for the only time, in 2004/05, before the rule separating sides from the same country in those early rounds were introduced.

This is the second time we have played Arsenal in European competition, the first coming in the 2003/04 Champions League quarter-finals, when we emerged victorious with bragging rights for the capital.

The first leg of that tie was at Stamford Bridge, but despite taking the lead when Eidur Gudjohnsen capitalised on a mistake by goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, it lasted just six minutes before Robert Pires equalised and we ended up hanging on for the last 10 minutes, after Marcel Desailly’s sending off left us a man down.

That gave us plenty of work to do at Highbury, and even more when Jose Antonio Reyes scored on the verge of half-time, meaning we needed two goals to win. That’s exactly what we managed though, starting when Frank Lampard took advantage of another error from Lehmann.

Gudjohnsen was denied a second goal by a sight which would become familiar to Chelsea fans in the years that followed, an Ashley Cole clearance off the line, but the Icelandic forward then set-up the winner with a fine one-two, allowing unlikely scorer Wayne Bridge to become the hero by grabbing the decisive goal in the 87th minute.

The first time we met a fellow English side in Europe was considerably earlier, and paved the way for our first continental silverware, when we faced Manchester City in the semi-finals of the 1970/71 Cup Winners’ Cup.

Our opponents were the competition holders, entitling England to two representatives in the competition rather than the usual one, whereas we had qualified by lifting the FA Cup for the first time the previous season.

We earned a 1-0 win in the first game at the Bridge, courtesy of a Derek Smethurst strike, three days before facing the same opposition in the league, drawing 1-1 at Maine Road.

However, we made no mistake when we returned to Manchester for the second leg of the semi, with journalists claiming the Blues players barely broke a sweat. If that was the case, the scoreline was misleading, with only another narrow 1-0 victory, and that because of an own goal by stand-in City keeper Ron Healey, who in a rush of blood fumbled Keith Weller’s scuffed indirect free-kick into his net.

Our other two triumphs over domestic opposition have both been against Liverpool, during a period between 2005 and 2009 when continental football seemed to have a distinctly local flavour, as we faced the Reds in Europe in five consecutive seasons.

Our victories came in the last two of those campaigns, and weren’t short of drama. In the 2007/08 Champions League semi-finals, an injury-time own goal by John Arne Riise gave us a narrow away-goal advantage at Anfield, but Didier Drogba and future Blues striker Fernando Torres both scored at the Bridge to take the tie to extra time.

Things weren’t finished there, though, as Lampard’s penalty and another Drogba strike sent us through, despite Ryan Babel’s late goal making for a tense finale.

Almost a year later, one round earlier in the same competition, we were off to Anfield for the first leg again, but this time we blew Liverpool away.

Despite Torres giving the home side the lead, a barnstorming display of attacking football from Guus Hiddink’s Blues saw Drogba get another against the Reds, and Branislav Ivanovic famously bagging a brace, to give us a 3-1 lead to take home to west London.

Chaos reigned at the Bridge, though, as Fabio Aurelio and Xabi Alonso brought Liverpool level, before Drogba put us ahead again and a trademark thunderbolt free-kick from Alex gave us breathing room.

However, things weren’t done yet. Lampard gave us the lead on the night, but Lucas Leiva and Dirk Kuyt swung the scales back towards Liverpool, before Lampard scored again to settle matters, putting a full stop on a 4-4 draw at the Bridge and a 7-5 win on aggregate.

It’s safe to say if we have that much drama en route to a Chelsea win in this season’s Europa League final, there will be some very happy people wearing Blue in London and Baku.

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