Maurizio Sarri had never reached a final of any competition until this first season of his in English football, and he is still yet to win one, but there may be few opportunities better than the great unloved Europa League to claim his first major trophy in 30 years of management.
Chelsea have cruised through this competition and this was a lot simpler than the scoreline might have suggested, the deficit being narrowed by two mighty swings of the right foot from Slavia Prague’s Petr Sevcik in the second half. A Europa League semi-final against Eintracht Frankfurt now awaits Chelsea, with the German club having staged a mighty comeback to beat Benfica 2-0 at home and progress on the away goals rule.
In the other half of the draw it gets rather more interesting, with Arsenal progressing into the final four and setting up the possibility of Sarri going head to head with another Premier League rookie, Unai Emery, for their first trophies of a new era. Emery is a Europa League specialist of course, while Sarri’s one experience of a cup final, at Wembley in February, went so badly in the end with all that business over Kepa Arrizabalaga, that he might have preferred it never happened.
Frankfurt are currently fourth in the Bundesliga and one can only assume that they might at least prove worthier opposition to Chelsea than they have encountered thus far in a competition they never really wanted to play in. They scored four times in the first 27 minutes of this game, and taking a 4-1 lead into half-time then allowed a spirited Slavia back in, courtesy of two booming right foot hits from Sevcik, a January signing for his club.
Having dominated before the break against Slavia, who are within a point of the Czech title, the two away goals made for a mildly panicky last few minutes that took the edge off the night for Chelsea. Nevertheless they have won all but one of the 12 games played so far in this competition, and that draw against the Hungarians Vidi was a dead rubber in the group stage. They have conceded seven and scored 30 and it is hard to say that they have really been tested yet.
Sarri once again lamented his team’s failure to re-impose themselves after the break. “As usual in the last two months, we started very badly in the second half,” he said. “We need to solve this problem. In the last 10 matches, we started like this in the second half. It's a big problem.”
He said that an ankle injury for Eden Hazard was not serious and despite the two second-half goals for Slavia was sufficiently confident to take his best player off in the 64th minute. The defeat to Liverpool on Sunday had ended a revival of four straight wins after Chelsea lost at Goodison Park. Now they have until Monday to recover for Burnley before the critical game for fourth place at Old Trafford a week on Sunday.
Even so, it might be the case that winning the Europa League could be a simpler route back into the Champions League than breaking into the top four. “We want to get to the final and win the competition, of course, but we know it'll be difficult,” Sarri said. “Eintracht are a great team with a wonderful striker, [Luka] Jovic. In the other semi-final, there are two very good teams.”
He allowed himself a little joke that he was sorry his former club Napoli had been eliminated by Arsenal. “If the final is Chelsea v Napoli, I'm sure at the end of the match I'd be really very happy. So I'm unhappy to hear they are out. For me, it's very important to get to the final. This time I don't want to play the final; I want to win the final.”
Slavia were so open in the first half that Chelsea were able to pass through them. Pedro chipped the goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar for the first having exchanged passes twice with first Cesar Azpilicueta and then Ross Barkley. Pedro should have scored the second when Hazard’s cross from the left reached him unmarked at the back post, but the Spanish winger got his bearings wrong and hit the post. The rebound struck poor old Simon Deli and went in before he could react.
The third fell to Olivier Giroud from a Pedro cutback. The Frenchman is the competition’s top goalscorer with ten goals in his 11 Europa League appearances. There was a big header from Tomas Soucek direct from a corner for Slavia’s first. The fourth goal of the game for Chelsea arrived soon after, a second from Pedro when Giroud’s shot from Emerson Palmieri’s cross was saved.
“We did something wrong, in the first 10-15 minutes of the second half,” Sarri said later. “They scored twice from 18 metres without being opposed. Sevcik’s first beat Arrizabalaga at his near post, and the second – a real beauty – flew past the Chelsea goalkeeper’s right hand. It certainly made for a better game in the second half, although Chelsea held out in a competition they won in 2013 under Rafael Benitez - another season when there was disharmony around the manager.
A couple of happy (or relived?) lads
The Europa League semi-finals...
Eintracht Frankfurt vs Chelsea
Arsenal vs Valencia
First legs played May 2. Second legs played May 9.
The results in the other quarter finals
FULL TIME - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
A ragged and rough second half but Chelsea are through. Two for Pedro, a strange own goal and a tap-in for Giroud did the damage. They fell asleep at the start of the second half, like they did for Slavia's first goal. But they had enough of a lead to allow a shocker of a second 45. Slavia can be proud of their fightback after a terrible start, 4-1 down after 27 minutes.
Chelsea are through to the Europa League semi-finals. It looks very much like they will be joined by London rivals Arsenal.
90+1 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Three minutes of added time. A minimum of. A free kick to Chelsea in David Luiz territory. He takes, right into the wall.
89 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Stoch takes the free kick...Willian sticks a leg out and it flies out for a throw. Chelsea nearly home. Kral turns 20 yards out and shoots over, when he should have passed to his right.
88 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Stoch has been involved a lot and to good effect since his introduction. Chelsea have been laboured this half and second best by far. A looped ball is player over the Chelsea defence, Luiz tries to head it, loses the ball behind him and it comes off his wrist...just outside the box. But not by much. Free kick.
A good chance for Slavia to put Chelsea under pressure for a very nervy five minutes here.
86 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Luiz and Kepa get confused from a ball in...but the danger is cleared. Luiz nearly headed it out of his keeper's hands! Pedro off after two goals and a strange assist for an own goal, when he should have scored. Hudson-Odoi on.
83 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Chelsea fell asleep at the start of the half and paid the price. The home side haven't really managed to create too many clear chances this half but it looks like they are going through. With a whimper. Zmrhal is replaced by Skoda for Slavia.
81 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Slavia fading fast. Or are they? Stoch gets the ball in space, 25 yards out...hits it well...OVER. There is still time. Kepa gets a card for time wasting.
79 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
If Chelsea get through with this scoreline (or worse), which they really should, how will the fans and players feel? It looked so positive at half time. But here we are. I suppose it won't really matter and perhaps the how will fade in the memory.
76 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Miroslav Stoch, former Chelsea man, about to come on for Slavia Prague. Chelsea doing a better job at dealing with Slavia's threat. For now. But Emerson concedes a corner, knocking a long ball out behind. Sevcik off for Stoch.
74 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Slavia looking a little leggy now as Chelsea find their way back into the game. Seems weird to say that when they're leading 4-3 after being 4-1 up after the first half. Emerson is carded for clattering a man on the half-way line. Fair. Nowhere near the ball.
72 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Some decent one-touch build-up play from Slavia, here. They have been impressive in this half. Chelsea try to break but Willian is pulled down on the half-way line by Kudela. Not too many more chances to speak of for either team, though.
70 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Slavia Prague look hungry here. Chelsea are making errors. Slavia are making the running. They have not been in the game in the second half.
68 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Chelsea's current predicament and second-half performance summed up in a wild cross-field pass that goes out for a throw on the full. Ross Barkley about to come off for Jorginho.
66 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Slavia - both fans and players - can feel something here. It's the sound of 30,000 Chelsea fans biting their fingernails. Or at least cursing under their collective breath. They are finding more space, time on the ball and opportunity. They still need two unanswered goals, mind.
65 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Slavia are winning this half 2-0 but it's not by luck. Chelsea have barely been in it the last 15 or so minutes.
Hazard off. Willian on.
62 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Sevcik so close to a hat-trick! Almost. He runs into space in the penalty area as a superb, long cross comes in, in space...he can't control it and the ball spills out from under his feet. Tough to control it but it was a good chance...you'd expect at least a shot away, there. Could he have hit it first time?
60 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Let's not forget that Slavia Prague need two unanswered goals here. To win 5-3 at Stamford Bridge and go through. They have 30 or so minutes to do it.
57 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
Hazard wins a Chelsea corner. Keeper drops the subsequent ball in but he is adjudged to have been fouled. Giroud push in the back.
You still have to fancy Chelsea here but can they keep it together? It hasn't been the best start to the second half...Slavia just managing to get in behind a bit here.
55 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg)
This game has a different look now. Sevcik was allowed too much space both times. Way too much.
GOAL! Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 3 (5-3 agg) Sevcik! Again!
WOAAAH. That's even better! Sevcik in EXACTLY the same spot as the last goal, this time lets fly with his right foot and it's past the keeper and into the top right corner this time!
GAME ON? RIGHT?
GOAL! Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 2 (5-2 agg) Sevcik!
Sevcik gets the ball about 20 yards out, fires a well-hit shot with his left foot, low down and it beats Kepa at his near post! Kepa should have done better but it's another goal for Slavia.
They have looked dangerous at times...or certainly full of intent and they have scored two against Chelsea at the Bridge. Who haven't given too many away in the Europa League this year.
50 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
It was nearly five! Hazard through on goal...passes it to Pedro. He doesn't get the shot away either, caught in possession...
47 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
A foul by Christensen. It was, even though he was fouled first. Ball comes into the box...Luiz tangles with Zeleny and it's a corner. Free header is met by Soucek. No goal this time as it goes well over.
SECOND HALF - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
Chelsea get the ball rolling. Forwards. What will this one end up? 6-1, I reckon.
Nearly time for the second half...
...Eden Hazard stays on.
HALF TIME - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
Chelsea go in 4-1 up and with a four goal cushion in the overall tie after a frenetic and fantastic first 30 minutes, including a very strange own goal. Chelsea heading into the semi-finals.
45 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
Chelsea break again but it's snuffed out before they can make their way into the attacking half. Can't knock their performance here at all. How could you, they're 4-1 up in the first half. Actually, the goal they conceded was due to non-existent marking. Still, the tie is over in all but name. A minute of added time.
43 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
Hazard is released on the left, looking threatening...he plays in Emerson whose left-footed shot is deflected off Ngadeu for a Chelsea corner. Hazard miscontrols from the corner and any promise breaks down as Chelsea play the ball back to their defence.
41 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
A free kick to Slavia in a dangerous area. 28 yards or so out. It's floated in towards the back post but nobody gets to it as it bounces out. Goal kick.
39 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
Meanwhile in Naples, Arsenal have scored to go 3-0 up on aggregate. Napoli now need four goals to defeat them. Chelsea just knocking this around now but Slavia still press.
37 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
I can't say that Slavia won't score again here. They look reasonably promising when they do get forward. Their best passage of play of the night just now. To be fair, they've conceded four in the first 27 mins and none for 10 so that's no real surprise, is it?
33 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
Barkley almost through after a chest down on the edge of the box...but he can't get it under his feet to get a shot away. He handles it anyway. Kante gets booked.
30 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
Slavia's next corner is massively overhit and leads to a Chelsea throw. Giroud fouls in the middle of the pitch. A calm couple of minutes just now.
28 min - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg)
A Cruyff turn from the keeper nearly gets Chelsea in AGAIN. But he survives. Just.
GOAL! - Chelsea 4 Slavia Prague 1 (5-1 agg) Pedro!
Well, that didn't last long. This is madness. Chelsea hit back within a minute!
Good hold up from Giroud after the kick off, Emerson makes a decent run...slides it across from the left to Giroud whose shot is blocked. A bit of pinball wizadry and the ball falls to Pedro six or so yards out and he makes no mistake this time!
Five goals in 27 minutes here. It's not Man City vs Spurs but...
GOAL! - Chelsea 3 Slavia Prague 1 (4-1 agg) Soucek!
That corner is played into the middle of the box, Soucek is in miles of space, nobody anywhere near him, attacks the ball and nods a powerful header into the back of the net.
24 min - Chelsea 3 Slavia Prague 0 (4-0 agg)
A free kick on the edge of the box for Slavia. Their fans get excited. It's a good one, floated in...in at the back post, Deli heads down but it hits Kepa...a good chance. Another corner.
22 min - Chelsea 3 Slavia Prague 0 (4-0 agg)
Kante nearly puts Barkley through but it's cut out. Slavia have showed intent, to be fair. But their defence has been poor. 3-0 inside 20 minutes. You feel this could be a real football score.
A familiar sight this game so far...
19 min - Chelsea 3 Slavia Prague 0 (4-0 agg)
Hazard takes another knock. Kind of innocuous but he is caught on the left ankle this time as he challenges for a header from a goal kick. Get him off now! He may need to come off anyway. His head is in his hands. He walks off for treatment. Should be able to run it off...
GOAL! - Chelsea 3 Slavia Prague 0 (4-0 agg) Giroud!
10 goals in the Europa League for the Frenchman. And it's a very easy one. Almost unmissable.
Kante turns on the ball in the centre circle and splits the Slavia defence with a superb ball through to Pedro who is through on goal...he slides an easy pass to Giroud waiting in the middle who side foots it into the back of the net. Chelsea out of reach, surely.
16 min - Chelsea 2 Slavia Prague 0 (3-0 agg)
Zmrhal gets a shot away from the left corner of the penalty box after a decent cross from deep...he comes across it with his left foot as it bounces wide. Hit it into the ground and it slides a couple of yards wide of the far post.
14 min - Chelsea 2 Slavia Prague 0 (3-0 agg)
I've just remembered my grandparents watch AQOS. Slavia almost have a chance from the edge of the box but a pass is loose and it's cut out. A long way back from them here.
11 min - Chelsea 2 Slavia Prague 0 (3-0 agg)
Easy stuff for Chelsea so far. Nigel Spackman on BT Sport says that they played well last week but they only thing they couldn't do was score. But it was 1-0, Nigel.
GOAL! Chelsea 2 Slavia Prague 0 - Deli OG!
Ooooh, that's a strange one! A Deli own goal.
Superb counter play from Chelsea from Giroud, plays it to Hazard on the left of the penalty box, the Belgian slides it across the goal to Pedro, who is waiting, goal gaping...he hits the post (how?!?!) and it bounces back off Deli and into the goal. Not his fault, really, but there you go.
"One for A Question of Sport's What Happened Next Round" that one, as they may have said in the 1990s. Wait...the show's still running? WHO IS WATCHING IT?
Anyway, Chelsea flying here.
7 min - Chelsea 1 Slavia Prague 0
Hazard is Hazarding again, deceiving defenders and nearly getting a shot away on the left of the penalty box, but it's blocked. I'd be worried if I were a Slavia fan now.
GOAL! Chelsea 1 Slavia Prague 0 - Pedro!
Superb build-up play on the right flank by Pedro, Giroud, Kante and Azpilicueta. In the end it comes from a back heel from Azpilicueta to Giroud, waiting on the edge of the penalty box. A ball through to Pedro who is clear who dinks it into the goal. A touch on the way through but it's in the back of the net. 1-0 to Chelsea.
3 min - Chelsea 0 Slavia Prague 0
Well, well, well. Hazard is down, clutching his left leg. He was fouled (not given) again...Kudela raked his studs down his left heel in a tussle on the sideline. Leaving one on him, I believe. Ref didn't spot it though.
2 min - Chelsea 0 Slavia Prague 0
Hazard is fouled just in the Slavia half. It's a pretty cynical and late challenge, to be honest. Looks painful but he's fine. It might not be the last foul on him this evening.
Kick off! Chelsea 0 Slavia Prague 0
The away team get us underway. They quickly cede possession.
Slavia's line-up and formation
The Liquidator is now ringing out of the PA and I take back my previous statement about music. It's a wonderful little tune.
Chelsea's line-up and formation
Out they go...
...the big blue flags are out. The Europa League anthem rings out of the public address system. At least I think it is. Who even knows what it sounds like? I suspect Uefa officials would have to lie if they said they did. Who gives a damn about music, anyway? This is football. And it's nearly kick off time.
We are about five minutes away from kick off at Stamford Bridge...
...can't see Chelsea losing this one. Or even not winning. Slavia Prague are 9/1 to win.
Chelsea are warming up in a special fan jersey inspired by their...
...Champions League triumph over Bayern Munich in Munich. That was a good one.
Chelsea will be hoping for more of this tonight. A goal would be more important, though, obviously.
Sarri: a change in approach needed from the Liverpool defeat at the weekend
We have to play a very good match because the opponents are really every dangerous. They are really aggressive and so I think the match will really be very difficult. The Premier League is another competition and we need to be focused on this match. We need to forget the result in the first leg. We need to approach the second half in the same way, not like in Liverpool.
He says, speaking to BT Sport.
It is already quite warm out there at the moment...
Chelsea are currently the favourites to win the Europa League at 13/8 or thereabouts...
...in front of Arsenal, Valencia, Benfica and Napoli. You can see why. Arsenal still have to overcome Napoli in Naples, though they do that with a 2-0 cushion from the first leg. English clubs could come to triumph in both the Champions Legue and the Europa League in 2019.
Slavia Prague fans enjoying the clement weather in London
The players arrive...
...a little earlier.
I did not know that
It's one of the oldest still-worn shirts in the world. We played first game in red-white shirt with five-pointed star on the chest back in 1896! #chesla#chelseaslavia#slaviapraguehttps://t.co/BBNVHBjMfb— SK Slavia Prague EN (@slavia_eng) April 18, 2019
Slavia Prague team news
Starting XI:Kolar, Kudela, Ngadeu, Deli, Boril, Soucek, Kral, Sevcik, Traore, Zmrhal, Masopust.
Bench: Kovar, Olayinka, Zeleny, van Buren, Stoch, Skoda, Frydrych
Chelsea team news
Starting XI:Kepa, Emerson, Luiz, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Kovacic, Kante, Barkley, Hazard, Pedro, Giroud.
Bench: Caballero, Zappacosta, Cahill, Jorginho, Higuain, Hudson-Odoi, Willian
The Prague manager gets his wish!
...and welcome to our liveblog for Chelsea vs Slavia Prague, the second leg of their Europa League quarter final. They take a 1-0 lead going into this match after a late Marcos Alonso header secured a win in the first leg. Chelsea are heavy favourites here but European football has been somewhat exciting and unpredictable in the past couple of days, so who on earth knows what's going to happen at Stamford Bridge tonight, eh?
Despite Eden Hazard's quality (a very, very, very high level) the Slavia Prague boss says he wants Chelsea to field him in tonight's match.
"I think that Hazard's on the same level as (Lionel) Messi and (Cristiano) Ronaldo; he's in the same category if you ask me," said Jindrich Trpisovsky.
"I think currently he's the best player in the world. Not many people can play at his level. I really like watching him. And I'd love for him to play [today]. Because if he plays [today] that means Chelsea take us seriously. And if we win we would beat the best Chelsea, and we would be respected.
"Willian played in Prague and we would like to see him again. Against teams like Chelsea you cannot just focus on one player, you have to focus on all of them."
Speaking of Chelsea players, Olivier Giroud has said he wants a more important role next season. He is currently the Europa League's top scorer with nine goals in his 10 appearances but he is waiting to know if Chelsea will trigger a one-year extension in his contract.
"Trust me, I’m not happy to play the second role. That’s why I said, next year, I will need to have a more important role to play in the team," he said.
"I have to meet Marina [Granovskaia], but I’m happy to be here. The thing is I just want to enjoy. It’s not because I’m 32 and I’ve won the World Cup, because I don’t want to retire. I’m not satisfied as second choice. With what I’ve achieved here, there is no reason they won’t give me one more year. But I need to be happy, also."