Chelsea 1-1 Frankfurt: Blues reach Europa League final on penalties
Kepa Arrizabalaga saved two spot kicks as Chelsea edged past a vibrant Eintracht Frankfurt outfit 4-3 on penalties to reach their second UEFA Europa League final.
Held 1-1 at home in the first leg, the visitors started brightly with Danny Da Costa’s stunning volley well repelled by the Chelsea No1. The hosts wrested control, though, striking first when Eden Hazard released Ruben Loftus-Cheek and the midfielder coolly bent his finish around Kevin Trapp.
Frankfurt regrouped at the interval and quickly levelled when Luka Jović fired in his tenth goal in this season’s competition from Mijat Gaćinović’s incisive pass. Adi Hütter’s men thought they had edged ahead early in extra time only for David Luiz to clear Sébastien Haller’s effort off the line and that intervention proved crucial as Chelsea seized their chance in the shoot-out.
Kevin Trapp’s save from César Azpilicueta handed the German side the advantage but Arrizabalaga denied both Martin Hinteregger and Gonçalo Paciência before Hazard converted to send the Blues into the final for the first time since 2013.
View from the stadium: Dan Thacker
Sarri was typically restless in the technical area, attempting to micromanage his players’ positions in his customary fashion, and while he had little cause for concern in the Chelsea-controlled first half, Frankfurt’s fine showing after the break and in extra time led to jitters not just in the dugout, but all round Stamford Bridge. The visiting contingent, immensely enjoying their trip to London, were immune to any such nerves, urging their side forward, with Frankfurt’s tyros responding in kind, rampaging with reckless abandon.
It took Arrizabalaga’s penalty intervention – on another European night of high drama – to silence them and send Chelsea to Baku. It almost seemed cruel for penalties to separate the sides after 210 minutes of gripping action, but it will be the Blues facing Arsenal in the showpiece.
Man of the match: Kepa Arrizabalaga
In a tie that failed to produce a winner over the course of 210 minutes, Arrizabalaga provided the spot-kick heroics needed to decide an encounter played out to the finest of margins. Chelsea have a chance to clinch a second UEFA Europa League title and have their summer signing and new No1 to thank for booking their ticket to Baku in an all-English final with Arsenal.
4: Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored his fourth Europa League goal – all the others came in a group-stage hat-trick against BATE.
8: This was Chelsea’s ninth home match against German visitors and the eighth time they have scored the opening goal.
10: Luka Jović is now joint top scorer in this season’s competition, level with Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud on ten goals.
Why Chelsea can win it
As well as being unbeaten in the UEFA Europa League this season, Chelsea boast plenty of final knowhow – they competed in the League Cup showpiece as recently as February – and can count on the experience of a clutch of 2013 UEFA Europa League winners, including César Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Eden Hazard and Gary Cahill. The Blues are also ending the season in fine fettle – they have only lost twice in 19 games – and are beginning to show promising signs of understanding Sarri’s stylistic demands. Baku beckons.
Chelsea, who are guaranteed UEFA Champions League football next season, complete their Premier League campaign away to Leicester on Sunday and a victory will seal third place in the final standings.
Frankfurt currently sit fourth in Germany but there four teams within three points of them with two games remaining. They host Mainz on Sunday and are away to leaders Bayern on the last day of the season.