Chelsea held their nerve to defeat German club Eintracht Frankfurt to reach the UEFA Europa League final, the semi-final tie being decided via a penalty shootout with the match ending 1-1 after two hours of football.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek fired in the opener for Maurizio Sarri’s team inside 30 minutes with a calm dispatch, only to be pegged back by Luka Jovic’s 29th goal in all competitions in the second period. Kepa Arrizabalaga came to Chelsea’s rescue, saving two successive spot kicks to secure a first European final for The Blues since 2013.
After a frenzied 48 hours for English clubs in Europe, this fixture began in similar sizzling fashion. Danny da Costa caused the first spark of the evening, meeting Jovic’s cross with a ferocious volley from 20 yards, only to be denied by Kepa Arrizabalaga’s acrobatic one-handed stop.
Unlike the first leg, The Blues had the better of the opening exchanges as Adi Hutter’s side were reluctant to press in the same fashion. Despite owning the lion’s share of possession on the floor, David Luiz was unlucky to witness his header cleared from the Eintracht Frankfurt line.
Pressure finally paid off for the home side as Stamford Bridge erupted for one of their own. In typical, dazzling fashion, Eden Hazard slalomed his way into space and slotted Loftus-Cheek in with a cut-throat pass. The Englishman had time to slide the ball into the corner of the net for his fourth of the competition, a first since October.
It was no wonder Sarri started Hazard for only the third time in Europe; the Belgian cut and crafted Chelsea together, sewing Frankfurt skipper David Abraham into nots. Hazard was involved again in an elegant Chelsea attack, beginning with Jorginho spinning on the edge of his area and ending with Loftus-Cheek being crowded out by those in white.
Eintracht Frankfurt came flying out of the blocks in the second half and within four minutes they were level. The last man Chelsea would want to be free in front of goal gave the Germans every inch of optimism as Jovic swept home his tenth in Europe this year.
Chelsea replied automatically, Hazard back-heeling into the path of Olivier Giroud, who could only toe-poke his shot wide of the post. As the crowd noise grew in decibels, mainly from the Eintracht Frankfurt end, so did the action on the field. Arrizabalaga prevented another volley, a more routine punch away from Abraham’s controlled strike.
Roles had been reversed, as the visitors sensed they could snatch something at The Bridge, their hosts clearly rattled by the sudden switch in intensity. Substitute Davide Zappocosta attempted to settle the nerves by forcing an anxious parry out of Kevin Trapp, with a low drive from range.
Chelsea couldn’t break down the German guard, frustration continually growing amongst the fans, having to settle for the additional half-an-hour added on. A tired Chelsea backline were forced into desperate defence clearances, Sebastian Haller to be denied twice by a lunge from Luiz then Zappacosta.
Sarri’s side huffed and puffed whilst Eintracht Frankfurt set up a fortress, thanking their goalkeeper in keeping the score level. Trapp was up to the task in stopping both Blues full-back Emerson who unleashed a hard shot straight at the German, before Zappacosta fizzed the fingertips of Eintracht Frankfurt’s final line of resistance.
The Chelsea crowd were up onto their feet in celebration as Cesar Azpilicueta turned away with delight having bundled the ball into the net, however, referee Ovidiu Hategan had already blown for a foul on Trapp. This would be the closest which The Blues could come to taking the lead before the perilous penalty shootout.
Despite Trapp stopping Azpilicueta’s penalty low to his left, Martin Hinteregger and Goncalo Paciancia couldn’t put theirs’ past Arrizabalaga from 12 yards. It was then the honour of Hazard to ensure an all English UEFA Europa League final, with Chelsea meeting Arsenal later this month in Azerbaijan.