Football Features

Eden Hazard’s perfect goodbye? Five Things Learned as Chelsea reach Europa League final

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 23:16, 9 May 2019

In an engaging night of football, Chelsea beat Frankfurt 4-3 on penalties after a 1-1 draw to make the Europa League final.

Arsenal had already qualified earlier in the night and the Blues snuck through on penalties to make it an all-English Europa League final (to go with the all-English Champions League final). What did we learn?

1. Kepa kills Trapp God

During the duration of the game, Kevin Trapp was sublime. The German was diving all over the pitch palming and stabbing Chelsea shots out and away. By contrast Kepa Arrizabalaga had less to do and thus didn’t look quite as special coming into the shootout. Trapp cut a colossal figure and looked every inch the kind of man who was going to make a name for himself.

He started brightly, saving Cesar Azpilicueta’s shot really well. But that was the end of his dominance. Kepa rose and improved as the shootout went, getting closer to the penalties before he stopped Martin Hinteregger dead in his tracks by… not moving.

They often say to shoot down the middle because a keeper will always dive. Well Kepa didn’t dive and as a result was able to just drop down and stop the penalty with his knees. Chelsea were level, and then the Spaniard carried on the momentum and dove across his goal to palm Goncalo Pacienca’s penalty out and away, giving Chelsea match point.

After the disappointment (and controversy) surrounding Chelsea’s penalty shootout defeat in the EFL Cup final, this was a bit of revenge and redemption for Kepa Arrizabalaga.

2. Ruben Loftus-Cheek should be automatic

If you were to design a footballer in a lab, picking all the best physical and technical attributes, the end product would probably look like Ruben Loftus-Cheek. A giant of a man who glides over the pitch with effortless grace. A supreme dribbler who can also pass and shoot, what more could you want from an attacking player?

Loftus-Cheek has had to be very patient for his chance at Chelsea having first debuted back in 2014, but this season he has shown exactly what he can do. When given the chance, he has added a sense of thrust and attacking drive to a midfield that can be staggeringly pedestrian. Loftus-Cheek has been so good, in fact, that it’s been confusing that Sarri hasn’t made him a regular fixture.

He started tonight against Frankfurt though, and showed his enormous quality – never moreso than when he made a darting run into the box before finishing smoothly from an acute angle. The goal put Chelsea into the lead and the way he delivered it was just so smooth. There was no sense of panic, he just waltzed into position and slapped it gently home.

The composure and self-assurance Loftus-Cheek possesses makes him such a unique player. He dribbles with the grace of a much smaller man, allowing him to get the Blues up the pitch in the blink of an eye with little help. He’s so balanced that he can help defend and attack, as he did against Frankfurt when he was constantly bailing out Emerson Palmeiri when the Brazilian lost his winger.

Moreover his drive, positional sense and finishing ability make him a genuinely dangerous goal-threat in a way no other Chelsea midfielder is. He should be automatic in the first XI when fit, he’s that good. The Chelsea fans feel the same, as when he was being taken off with five minutes remaining the Stamford Bridge crowd erupted into a chorus of boos. When have you seen that happen for a player with less than 100 games for his club? Speaks to how special Loftus-Cheek is.

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3. Luka Jovic is bound for greatness

Eintracht Frankfurt were able to sign Luka Jovic from Benfica for just €7m, which is a steal. This is because they took him on loan when his stock was low, but they’ve raised it all the way to the sky.

Jovic came into the match with nine goals in the Europa League and 26 overall for the season. At just 21 years old he has proven himself an incredible presence in the Europa League. He scored Frankfurt’s goal in the first leg and when they went 1-0 down at the Bridge all eyes immediately went on him, expecting him to deliver.

And, well, he did. The ball came up to him on the edge of the Chelsea box and he chested it back to Mijat Gacinovic before spinning behind David Luiz into the space left. Gacinovic slipped the ball in behind, Jovic ran onto the ball and finished so effortlessly that Ante Rebic started celebrating well before the Jovic had even taken his shot.

Jovic has been linked with Barcelona and Real Madrid this summer, and watching him against Chelsea you can see why. He’s only 21 but moves with such intelligence and plays with such composure. He was always drifting into spaces and trying to hurt Chelsea with his runs. Wherever he ends up, one thing is for sure: Luka Jovic is bound for greatness.

4. David Luiz Forever

There aren’t many figures in football as polarising as David Luiz. No one ever just thinks he’s alright, he’s either brilliant or an absolute donkey. Ordinarily you’d say this was an absurd way to rate a player but to be perfectly honest, David Luiz is usually either brilliant or an absolute donkey.

Today in a European semi-final, David Luiz was brilliant. Well, mostly. He did get sent for a spin by Jovic on Frankfurt’s equaliser. But that was the only blemish on his performance. Otherwise he was constantly throwing his body in the way; his three blocks made was a team high and he also effected five clearances (another team high).

Whenever a cross would come in from Frankfurt it was invariably David Luiz in the way, getting the ball out of danger. He even cleared acrobatically off the line as Eintracht Frankfurt looked to steal it late, and then stepped up to ruthlessly dispatch his penalty during the shootout.

In truth this shouldn’t have surprised us. David Luiz has an excellent track record in Europa League semi-finals. He was last there for Chelsea in 2012/13 where he scored a goal in each leg as the Blues overcame FC Basel on their way to winning the competition. 

5. Hazard’s perfect goodbye?

Eden Hazard is gone, isn’t he? With just one year left on his deal and Real Madrid knocking on Chelsea’s door it seems like only a matter of time before the Belgian is wearing white. That would mean that this game, this match, was the last one Hazard will play at Stamford Bridge as a Chelsea player. And if that is the case, what a way to go.

Hazard was quiet for large stretches of the game (but isn’t he always?) yet he produced a lovely bit of dribbling and a supreme pass to set up Chelsea’s goal on the night – and then when it came to the shootout he waited, as always, for the fifth glory shot. That’s always risky for top player, because you might not even get a chance to shoot.

But Hazard did get a chance, and whilst there was no panenka this time, the Belgian kept his cool and slammed his penalty home with unerring confidence to put Chelsea into the Europa League final. Surely there is no better way for him to say goodbye to the Bridge than that?