Chelsea’s German test at home and Arsenal’s Spanish class at Valencia
With the Champions League semi-finals done and dusted and Europe having found her two finalists, we shift our attention to the Europa League. The second leg of the semi-finals will get underway tonight and here we preview the two matches which will decide the finalists.
Staring at a 3-1 deficit from the first leg, Valencia warmed up for the reverse fixture with a 6-2 humbling of Huesca at home over the weekend. In the first leg, Los Ches returned with an important away goal and will possibly take inspiration from Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspurs’ miraculous comebacks in the Champions League. With just two absentees in the form of central midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia and winger Denis Cheryshev, Marcelino remains optimistic of a turnaround against Arsenal in front of the home crowd at the Mestalla.
Meanwhile, the Gunners know that if they intend to play Champions League football next season, then it is now or never. Unai Emery’s men travel to Spain with a healthy advantage built by goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last week, but their struggling form on the road this campaign continues to be a worrying factor for the North Londoners. While it is a familiar ground for boss Emery, Arsenal must avoid a defeat at Valencia if they are to remain on course for a first European crown since the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994.
Chelsea host Eintracht for the second leg of an evenly poised Europa semi-final fixture at Stamford Bridge. Having drawn 1-1 at the Commerzbank Arena, the Blues carry a vital away-goal advantage and start as slight favourites in the contest. Maurizio Sarri’s men prepared for the visit with a comfortable 3-0 win over Watford that confirmed them Champions League football next year. With stalwart Eden Hazard expected to start in the return fixture, Chelsea are hopeful of staying on course for their first piece of silverware under Sarri.
Eintracht, on the other hand, didn’t have the best of preparations for the second leg, as they were thrashed 6-1 by Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga on Sunday. However, Die Adler remains a big threat to the hosts given their performance in the competition thus far. Star forward Luka Jovic scored the opener in the first meeting and will look to add more in order to eclipse Olivier Giroud as the Europa League top scorer this year. Manager Adi Hutter rested many of his first-team players in Sunday’s horrible defeat to Leverkusen and expects his team to cause a major upset against former holders Chelsea to remain in the fray for their first continental title since 1979-80.
Words: William Paul