Chelsea will take on Arsenal in the first of two all-English finals this week on Wednesday. The run-up to the match has been overshadowed by politics, due to UEFA’s curious decision to host the Europa League final in faraway Baku Azerbaijan, a city 2,900 miles from London. The venue has been a cause of controversy both for its distance from London and because of the delicate political situation which will see the Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan omitted from Arsenal’s travelling squad.
These two reasons mean that the 60,000 capacity Baku Olympic Stadium will have anything, but English fans. Only 5,000 tickets have been sold to Gunners fans, while only 2,000 Chelsea supporters are expected to be in the stadium. This means that there is a big chance that there will be a lot of empty seats in the stadium and the crowds will likely be much quieter than the London clubs’ home supporters.
However, the atmosphere in the stands will definitely be contrasted by the fiery contest which will take place on the pitch. The London rivalry between Chelsea and Arsenal has always been strong Facing each other in a European final the players won’t lack any motivation.
Can Sarri Finally Win a Title?
Chelsea’s manager, Maurizio Sarri, is lauded as one of the best coaches in the world right now, but the fact that he hasn’t won any titles in his career is usually held against him by his detractors. Considering that the Italian is not a young man, the argument that his football, while pleasing to the eye, does not result in titles, definitely holds water.
Another thing which goes against Sarri at the moment is that he is not loved by a large section of Chelsea’s fans. The former Napoli coach has seen his ‘Sarri-ball’ style of football lambasted by many match-going fans who have audibly expressed their discontent with what they perceive as boring keep-hold-of-the-ball type of football.
Sarri didn’t even take part in the lap of honour which took place after Chelsea’s last home match of the season and while it is said that he doesn’t go on the pitch because he is very superstitious, there is definitely an argument to be made that he holds a grudge against those who derided his football philosophy for most of the season.
All of this means that the atmosphere around Chelsea may once again turn toxic as has been the case so many times in the past and it is reported that the board have already decided that they won’t stand in Sarri’s way if he decides to leave for Juventus – a move news reports indicate is immiment. The Chelsea manager has reportedly agreed all the details with the Old Lady and all that he and Juventus are waiting for is for the Europa League final to end to make the announcement. Chelsea for their part, are also said to be ready to announce a new manager after the final whistle on Wednesday is blown, with club legend and current Derby manager Frank Lampard being the main candidate for the job.
Many people are bewildered by this strange situation in which a coach is about to be let go in spite of taking his team to a Europa League and Carabao Cup Final and also earning an automatic Champions League spot for next season. However, that is exactly how Chelsea have been operating for fifteen years now and in this period they have managed to win a total of 15 titles, something that only a few clubs can say. Furthermore, the fact that Sarri is probably about to leave will ease the pressure to win in the final and will cause him to have a ’devil may care’ attitude which has so many times resulted in success for others. Sarri may actually win his first title in the strangest season in his career, but considering that he is such an eccentric character, that seems like a completely fitting resolution.
Or will it be Unai Emery’s Fourth Europa League Title?
Unai Emery may not be the most decorated coach in the world, but he definitely has more titles than Maurizio Sarri. The former PSG manager actually has a very interesting fact tied to his name – he has won the Europa League more times than any other manager out there. He won the competition for three consecutive seasons from 2013 to 2016 with a very good Sevilla team and there is definitely something about the Spanish manager and the Europa League that makes their connection so special.
Emery will definitely be hoping that he can lift his fourth Europa League title once the match on Wednesday finishes especially as that will be his only route to qualify for next year’s Champions League.
The Gunners were long in contention to finish in the top four places which guarantee a Champions League spot, but after a very poor run of form at the end of the EPL season, Arsenal dropped out of the Champions League places and now will hope that they win in Baku and qualify for Europe’s top competition via that route.
Interestingly enough, even if they won’t be in the Champions League next season, the Gunners will still have Unai Emery as their manager, while Chelsea might be without a manager even if Sarri wins the competition. This is quite bizarre, but is also something that bookmakers feel might happen. They make Chelsea slight favourites to win in Baku and give them odds of 29/20, while Arsenal come with higher odds and are valued at 21/10.
Eden Hazard’s Swan Song
The Europa League final will likely be Eden Hazard’s last match playing for Chelsea. The Belgian wizard with the ball is definitely on his way and is only weeks away from his imminent Real Madrid move.
As a result, this match will mean more to him than to anyone else on the pitch and he will give his best to win his second Europa League title in Chelsea colours and leave the club in style.
On his day, Hazard can be a nightmare for opposition defences and you can bet that he will see the final in Baku as the perfect place to give Chelsea fans his parting gift. That’s why punters will be foolish not to back him to score in Baku, especially as Chelsea’s forwards have been misfiring all season long and their only goal outlet is actually the diminutive Belgian. Bookmakers give Hazard odds of 11/8 to score anytime in the match, give him odds of 9/2 to score first, and the same odds of 9/2 to score last. Hazard is also a good bet in the Multi Scorers market as he can easily score a brace (15/2) and might even notch a hat-trick (33/1).
Can Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette Score Again?
Aubameyand and Lacazette have been Arsenal’s main scoring outlets this season. The dynamic duo has been responsible for all of Arsenal’s last eight goals in the Europa League and if Arsenal score a goal it will definitely be courtesy of one of these two.
Another thing which goes in favour of Aubameyang or Lacazette scoring against Chelsea is the fact that Chelsea will be missing arguably their best central defender, Antonio Rudiger. The German is out for the season with an injury and the young Andreas Christensen will deputise for him alongside David Luiz.
Christensen and Luiz are quality defenders on their day, but both of them are known for having lapses of concentration and one can imagine Emery targeting Luiz with his lethal strike force and hoping that he makes one of his trademark mistakes.
Alexandre Lacazette is given nice odds of 5/1 to score first and odds of 8/5 to score anytime during the match. Aubameyang on the other hand, is the favourite with bookmakers to score in Baku and is given odds of 11/10 to score anytime, while he is assigned odds of 15/4 to score first. Backing Aubameyang to score a brace comes with odds of 11/2, while backing Lacazette to do the same is more lucrative and comes with odds of 17/2.
Will Chelsea Miss N’Golo Kante?
Chelsea lost Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi to injury in the run-in to the final, but their loss of N’Golo Kante will hurt them the most. The French engine in the middle of the park is a huge player for Chelsea and they thought that he would play a major role in the final after he returned from injury to train with the rest of the team.
However, in one of the training sessions during the weekend it was reported that Kante suffered a serious knee injury and that he will be out for quite some time now and will definitely miss the Europa League final.
The fact that both Kante and Loftus-Cheek will definitely miss the final means that Chelsea will have no option but to play Jorginho, Barkley and Kovacic in midfield and that can be quite the handicap especially as Loftus-Cheek was playing brilliantly recently and Kante is an instrumental part of Chelsea’s midfield.