Welcome to Baku! Or, more commonly known as, the final that nobody can get to, this is unless you’re a UEFA delegate. I’m sure that they’ve not had to go via Istanbul, Tbilisi, Glasgow, Tehran with a left turn at Jordan and I don’t mean Katie Price. With a capacity of 68700 at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, both Chelsea and Arsenal were given an allocation of just under 6000 tickets, however, because of the location (Mars could have been better) both clubs have returned half of their allocation. For those who have travelled to Baku, we here at the Chelsea Independent, salute you all.
After our 0-0 draw at Leicester back on May 12, the club flew to Massachusetts for a friendly against the New England Revolution, this was in aid of the Say No to Antisemitism campaign. Yes, the cause was worthy, but losing Ruben Loftus-Cheek to an achilles injury wasn’t so. Ruben joins Callum Hudson-Odoi, Antonio Rudiger and N’Golo Kanté on the sidelines unable to play in Baku. Flying out with the squad for first-team experience were Connor Gallagher, George McEachran and goalkeeper Jamie Cumming.
This will be our fourth final against Arsenal in the last 17 years, three of these finals have been played outside of England. In 2002 the FA Cup Final was played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, where we lost 2-0. Then in 2007 the League Cup Final was also contested in Cardiff. Both of these finals were played in Wales due to Wembley being rebuilt. Chelsea were 2-1 victors in the 2007 final. Ten years later, another FA Cup Final between the teams was actually played in London at Wembley (shock, horror!) unfortunately, Arsenal won 2-1 that day and finally, Wednesday May 29 the Europa League Final is in Azerbaijan. Of course this will be the second time that Chelsea have played a major European final against another English club, outside of England – the less said about Moscow, the better.
This could be Maurizio Sarri’s final game for Chelsea, if media reports are to be believed. Juventus are supposedly offering Sarri £1.6m a year more than his current Chelsea contract. If I were Sarri I’d snap that offer up (no, please take it!) I’m sure that in the coming days, or weeks, we’ll find out what the outcome will be.
Along with the possibility of Sarri going, Eden Hazard could also be playing his last game for the club. He has one year left on his contract, with reports saying that Real Madrid want to pay £86m for Eden, while Chelsea are holding out for between £120m-£130m.
This will be the second time that we have appeared in the Europa League Final; the first came in 2013 when, under Rafael Benitez, we beat Benfica 2-1 in Amsterdam. A win on Wednesday would stop Arsenal from reaching the Champions League next season. If Arsenal do win then there’ll be five English teams in that competition, including Chelsea, of course.
This will be the final game of Petr Cech’s illustrious career before he hangs his gloves up and retires; the majority of his titles have been won at Chelsea, but he was in goal for Arsenal when they beat us at Wembley in 2017. Cech has won the European Cup and Europa League with Chelsea and has been rumoured to be coming back home as Director of Football at Stamford Bridge. If this is the case then he’d be welcomed back no matter the result.
Olivier Giroud was another who was on the winning side for Arsenal in 2017, however, he’s scored ten for Chelsea in this seasons Europa League and will be looking to add to that in Baku. The disappointing loan period for Gonzalo Higuain could come to an end after the final. Giroud recently signed a years extension to his contract taking him up to the end of the 2019/20 season.
My Prediction: The last game of the season, the last game for Sarri? The last game for Hazard? Well, if we’re to turn Baku Blue, Hazard may need to turn on the skill, desire and possibly a goal or two, as long as Sarri doesn’t play him as a false nine. I’ll go with a Chelsea 2-1 win, after extra time.