With Chelsea finding out their Quarter Final fate in Friday’s draw, it is probably a good time to consider the Blues’ chances of going all the way in the Europa League.
A 7-0 drubbing of Dynamo Kiev over two-legs is a good indicator of how Chelsea have been in cruise-control throughout their Europa League campaign, but with some strong teams still left in the competition, being victorious in Baku is not as cut and dried as some fans might think.
Chelsea has the best record in the Europa League with 9 wins out of a possible 10, and an even more impressive stat of averaging 2.5 goals a game. The Blue’s dominance of games in Europe can be shown by their incredible passing statistics which will send the ‘Sarri-ball’ fanatics into overdrive, with Chelsea boasting a 91% passing accuracy and a total of 6566 passes completed. Chelsea has often won games by tiring the opposition with their possession of the ball, a tactic that should be praised given that Chelsea has been known for years as a team who enjoy breaking on the counter.
Maurizio Sarri seems to have lost his stubbornness in recent weeks, with Chelsea adapting to situations better than they had done in the past. I have been impressed in how solid we have been in defence since our lackluster FA Cup departure to Manchester United, which will be crucial if we are to lift the Europa League given the attacking strength of a number of teams still left in the competition such as Napoli, Arsenal and Eintracht Frankfurt. Chelsea boast the best defensive record in the Europa League with 7 clean sheets and just 4 goals conceded, and that is often with a rotated defence.
Chelsea’s Star Players in Europe
As everyone is aware, Willian has received extensive criticism for his performances this season, but even the Brazilian’s staunchest critics will agree that he has been one of our star performers in Europe. A wonderful free-kick in the home leg of the Dynamo Kiev tie and a great captain’s performance on Thursday highlights the purple patch he has enjoyed in the competition. If he can continue shining in Europe, Willian could prove to be one of our main threats in the latter stages of the Europa League.
Olivier Giroud is the Europa League’s top goalscorer with 9 goals, bagging the perfect hattrick on Thursday and reeling off many complete performances in Europe. Given the number of games Chelsea have played this season, rotation has been important, with Giroud benefiting from the playtime offered by the Blue’s involvement in the Europa League. I personally would continue playing the Frenchman in the competition over Gonzalo Higuain, where he has earned his place in the side and offers that threat in the air which is invaluable.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the Europa League this season has been the opportunity to see the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi have a stint in the team. The two Englishmen have brought a new lease of life to the team, with impressive performances that have warranted continual game time in Europe. Hudson-Odoi has been particularly superb, showing maturity in his performances that I have not seen from a teenager at Chelsea before.
In the Premier League we have struggled to break down teams and getting that crucial goal, but with the fluid attack we have seen in the Europa League, will the likes of Hudson Odoi’s involvement be the difference between winning or losing the Europa League?
My heart can’t take a London derby final, where the prospect of losing to Arsenal in a European final would be my idea of hell. We were well and truly outplayed when we last faced the gunners in January, with Arsenal also being in a good grain of form by beating Manchester United last weekend and was a penalty away from beating Spurs at Wembley. What I am most nervous about in regards to facing the North Londoners, is the quality they have in attack, with Aubameyang and Lacazette forming a powerful partnership upfront, where their pace would surely leave our defenders in the dust. Superb defensive performances from the Blues against Man City and Tottenham in February, show that we can suppress attacking teams, but we’ve seen too often defensive lapses that have costed us. If we are to face Arsenal, we must be defensively resolute and take our chances.
Arsenal has the not so small task of overcoming Napoli in the Quarter Finals, a team I was terrified of drawing and my second favourites of winning the competition in May. Maurizio Sarri will, of course, be very familiar with the Italian side, while the Chelsea faithful will be excited to see Carlo Ancelotti again, many of whom would prefer to see at the helm of Chelsea over the current coach. Consistently the second best team in Italy, Napoli have made easy work of their opposition so far in the Europa League and have a better goal conversion rate than Chelsea in the competition averaging 2.25 goals a game. Napoli has a frightening attack, with Milik, Insigne and Mertens are sure to send fear into any defence, where their main threat Milik, has 16 goals this season and has attracted interest across Europe’s top leagues.
Chelsea had the most favorable draw of the Quarter Finals, with Slavia Prague being the lowest ranked team left in the competition, however, the Czech team showed great heart to overcome serial Europa League winners Sevilla in the last round. This should be an easy tie for the West Londoners, where hopefully we can kill the game within the first leg.
The draw also revealed who we would face in the Semis, with Benfica or Eintracht Frankfurt awaiting us if we overcome Slavia Prague. Benfica will be looking for revenge after we beat them in the Europa League Final with a last-minute header from Branislav Ivanovic, but the Portugues side only just progressed against Dinamo Zagreb and also struggled against a patched-up Galatasaray side.
Eintracht Frankfurt is the other team we could face in the Semis, a side I have down as the dark horses of the competition. The German side knocked out Inter Milan and was the stronger team during both legs. Recently in the Bundesliga, they have scored 9 goals in their last three matches and are slowly creeping up the league table where they currently sit at 6th. Out of the two possible teams to face in the Semis, I’m hoping we avoid the German side who would pose a difficult challenge for the Blues.
We Must be Favourites, Right?
So the bookies have us as the favorites, but I put it down to what Chelsea turns up on the day. Surely the chance of winning a European trophy will inspire the players to focus and give their all, but you just can’t predict anything with Chelsea and that’s why I love them! I am quietly confident we will go all the way, with the competition being our best route into the Champions League next season which is where Chelsea need to be!