CHELSEA set up a Europa League final against London rivals Arsenal after beating Frankfurt 4-3 on penalties, thanks to two vital saves from Kepa Arrizabalaga in the shootout and Eden Hazard’s decisive spotkick.
The jubilation of the Stamford Bridge faithful come 10.45pm was in stark contrast to the anxiety, frustrations and uneasiness which not only spread around the stadium for the preceding 120 mins, but the season as a whole.
Maurizio Sarri’s side relied on penalties to get them through on a night where the inferior Frankfurt showed almost spoiled an English takeover in the European finals.
Two days prior to Tottenham vs Liverpool in the continent’s showpiece game, Chelsea will take on Arsenal in a London derby 3,000 miles away in Baku, Azerbaijan, for the heaviest trophy in European football and a spot in the next season’s premier competition.
Chelsea exuded nerves in the early stages of the match, but those were settled somewhat when Ruben Loftus-Cheek opened his body on the left of the area and curled a pass-cum-shot past Kevin Trapp in the Frankfurt goal.
The away side showed their threat on the counter last weekend, though, and punished Chelsea with it soon into the second half – Luka Jovic once again proving his coolness in front of goal.
The rest of the 90 minutes petered out as Frankfurt looked the more likely to nick it. Substitute Sebastien Haller had two efforts cleared off the line in injury time while Cesar Azpilicueta – who should have seen red for a reckless challenge in normal time – had a goal disallowed when he was judged to have unlawfully dispossessed Trapp of the ball.
Penalties it was. And, given Azpilicueta insistence on staying on for the shootout in the Carabao Cup final earlier this year, you felt he was ready. Azpilicueta missed Chelsea’s second kick to hand Frankfurt the initiative, but his compatriot between the sticks came to the rescue, saving the German’s fourth with his legs and then their fifth diving to his right.
Hazard, who may well have been playing in his last game at Stamford Bridge as a Chelsea player, fittingly slotted home the winning penalty to set up a final date with Arsenal on May 29 – and Stamford Bridge was happy again.
CHELSEA PROGRESS TO THE EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL
FRANKFURT 3-4 CHELSEA: HAZARD SCORES
FRANKFURT 3-3 CHELSEA: PACENCIA SAVED
FRANKFURT 3-3 CHELSEA: LUIZ SCORES
FRANKFURT 3-2 CHELSEA: HINTEREGGER SAVED
FRANKFURT 3-2 CHELSEA: JORGINHO SCORES
FRANKFURT 3-1 CHELSEA: DE GUZMAN SCORES
FRANKFURT 2-1 CHELSEA: AZPILICUETA SAVED
FRANKFURT 2-1 CHELSEA: JOVIC SCORES
FRANKFURT 1-1 CHELSEA: BARKLEY SCORES
FRANKFURT 1-0 CHELSEA: HALLER SCORES