In the distant land of Azerbaijan, lies a capital city; Baku. Normally in this low-lying coastal city, summer is the season of holidays, meeting the grandparents and playing football with your mates.
But this year, May is no ordinary summer month. In a few hours from now, two European supergiants will clash at the 70,000 capacity for the Europa League Final. What makes it even more special is that FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER this is an all-English affair.
Road to the Final:
They say in life nothing good is ever easy. That’s normally true about most things, barring Chelsea’s road to the Olympic Stadium. After breezing past the group stage amassing 7 points more than second place BATE Baristov, Chelsea faced former Red-Devil Zlatan Ibrahimović’s former club Malmo FF whom they dispatched 5-0.
Apart from this, the only notable opponent they faced came in the semis versus Germans Eintracht Frankfurt. After 120 minutes of the second leg, both teams were held at 2-2 courtesy of a masterclass from Serbian Luka Jovic. In the penalties, Chelsea held their nerve and their experience shone through.
Arsenal’s road to the final had some better-noted opponents along the way. Arsenal, like Chelsea, also topped their group matching the Blues’ massive 16 points. In second came Portuguese giants Sporting CP. In the round of 16 they then dispatched group runners-up BATE Baristov comfortably 3 goals to 1.
Two key fixtures came in the quarters and the semi-finals versus Napoli and Valencia. The Italian juggernauts Napoli came to the Europa League after being kicked out in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League (UCL) –losing out to Paris Saint Germain and this year’s UCL finalists Liverpool. Arsenal thrashed them 3-0, before professionally dismantling Spanish side Valencia 7-3 in the semis.
Sarri vs Emery:
Without an iota of doubt, this final will be won (or lost) on the training field. This is a tactical battle of wits between two managers who are been appointed to their clubs relatively recently. Needless to say, both managers will fight tooth and nail for silverware. Arsenal missed out on UCL qualification after coming 5th in this seasons title race whereas Chelsea impressively secured 3rd and UCL qualification. All this means is that a victory is even more important for the Gunners.
The Battle of the No. 10s:
Looking at the way things are shaping up; this could be the last game in Chelsea colours for PFA Fans’ Player of the Year Eden Hazard. The Madrid-bound Belgian has been a loyal servant for the Blues for the last seven years. He will be looking to leave the Stamford Bridge faithful with even more good memories as he fulfils his dream of becoming the next Galactico.
For Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil things have turned dour this past season. The former German International has clocked a meagre 5 goals and 2 assists in the Premier League this time around. But you know, as they say, form is temporary, class is permanent, and boy is this man full of class! All Arsenal need is one moment of brilliance from their pass-master and they could see themselves back in the UCL next season with another trophy added to their collection.
Chelsea Expected Lineup: Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Christensen, David Luiz, Alonso; Kovačić, Jorginho, Barkley; Pedro, Giroud, Hazard
Injury concerns: Kanté (knee), Cahill (Achilles)
Out: Loftus-Cheek (Achilles), Hudson-Odoi (Achilles), Rüdiger (knee), Ampadu (back)
Arsenal Expected Lineup: Čech; Kolasinač, Koscielny, Papastathopoulos, Mustafi, Maitland-Niles; Xhaka, Torreira; Aubameyang, Özil; Lacazette
Injury concerns: Welbeck (ankle)
Out: Ramsey (hamstring), Denis Suárez (groin), Bellerín (knee), Holding (knee), Mkhitaryan (did not travel)
~Written by Rahul Alvares for MTTN
~Artwork and Graphics by Yashovardhan Parekh for MTTN