Along with the Champions League, everyone’s second favourite European competition also returns this week with the quarter finals of the Europa League. Chelsea take on Slavia Praha in the aptly named Eden Arena on Thursday, whilst the other fixtures in the competition include Arsenal vs Napoli, Villarreal vs Valencia and Benfica vs Eintracht Frankfurt.
Chelsea will be hoping to continue the good form following two good wins against Brighton and West Ham. Despite their fluctuating form in domestic football this season, Chelsea have been imperious in Europe having played 10 games, winning 9 and drawing 1, scoring 25 in the process and conceding just 3. Olivier Giroud tops the scoring charts with 9, including his hat-trick last time out against Dynamo Kiev, whilst Willian has the most assists of anyone left in the competition with 6.
The Blues have enjoyed some of their best attacking football this season in Europe, scoring 3 or more goals in 5 games so far. This is probably due to the less organised defences of the lower tier opposition. Sarri’s possession based football has tired teams and opened spaces in less organised defences with a majority of goals coming later on in games. However this should not take anything away from Sarri’s men’s achievements in the competition.
However Chelsea’s opponents won’t be a push over. Currently sat top of the Czech First league, Prague have also enjoyed some memorable games in Europe this season. Qualifying convincingly from a group including Zenit and Bordeaux, Prague then beat Genk 4-1 over two legs. They then went into the tie against Sevilla as major underdogs, but did what many people thought impossible and beat them 6-5 on aggregate after a 119th minute winner from Ibrahim Traore. His goal secured a European quarter-final for the Czech team for the first time since 1999-2000 when they were knocked out by Leeds. Their key men in the competition so far have been Tomas Soucek and Milan
Skoda with 5 combined goal contributions between them.
Despite this, Chelsea fans will see themselves as favourites to go through and many feel the Blues have a good chance of lifting the trophy this year. After breezing through the group stage with 16 points Chelsea dispatched Malmo, beating the Swedes 5-1 over two legs. They then took on Dynamo Kiev in the round of 16. A comprehensive home win and a thrashing in the away leg saw them advance 8-0 victors. The Blues have undoubtedly found themselves on the easier side of the tournament tree as after Prague only Eintracht Frankfurt or Benfica stand in between them and their second ever Europa league final.
Meanwhile Chelsea’s city rivals Arsenal face a much more difficult run to the final. They play Sarri’s old club Napoli and should they advance face either Valencia or Villarreal. Many fans are predicting an all London final, and with both club not guaranteed to qualify for the Champions League via the league this season, the game could be the difference between Champions League or Europa League football next season.
In his press conference, Sarri didn’t mention any injuries that should be cause for concern. He did, however say that all they players that “played 90 minutes on Monday are tired” and he “will have to change five or six players” so expect to see a heavily rotated side.
Chelsea: Kepa; Alonso, Luiz, Christensen, Zappacosta; Kovacic, Barkley, Kante; Willian, Pedro, Giroud
Slavia Prague: Kolar; Coufal, Kudela, Ngadeu-ngadjui, Boril; Kral, Soucek, Masopust, Husbauer, Stoch, Skoda
Slavia Praha vs Chelsea
Thursday 11th April
Kickoff: 20:00 UK time