The European soccer season is rapidly drawing to a close with the main finales, the Champions League and Europa League finals, still to come. English sides have dominated the main competitions with London clubs Arsenal and Chelsea set to face off in the Europa League final in Baku on 29th May, before Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool go to war in the biggest club tournament in the world, the Champions League, which somewhat ironically is being held in Madrid – the city that’s home to three-time consecutive winners and current holders Real.
The anticipation of both finals has been slightly dampened by the ridiculous apportionment of tickets with each team being awarded a paltry share of the stadium capacity. When added to the scandalous cost of tickets, hotels and transport has seen some uproar from media, fans and the clubs involved alike, however, as the kick-offs near that negativity will undoubtedly dissipate and be replaced with nervous passion and excitement.
LONDON DERBY IN BAKU
First up, the Europa League. Chelsea have endured a topsy turvy campaign, which has seen manager MaurizioSarri fighting off squad unrest and sacking rumours throughout the second half of the season. That’s something quite ridiculous when you consider he’s steered Chelsea to a third-place finish domestically, and subsequently qualification to next seasons Champions League, and could feasibly add a European title to the Stamford Bridge trophy room as well.
The Blues’ opponent in Azerbaijan is city rival Arsenal, who ended the English season in fifth place meaning Europa League success is their last hope of qualifying for the Champions League next time around. Like Sarri, Unai Emery arrived in London last summer to take on the Premier League for the first time in his career having replaced long-time coach Arsene Wenger, who had been managing the team for nearly two decades.
Strangely, despite Arsenal failing to reach the top four – even whilst having joint Golden Boot winner Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang in their side – Emery has been praised for the job he’s done, which, whilst fair, does make you question the pressure placed on Sarri. Whereas both managers can be assured of their futures heading into next season (surely?) there will probably be a couple of farewells following the match.
Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech is definitely hanging his gloves up after an illustrious career that has seen him lift silverware for both sides and it’s unquestionable that he’ll receive heroes send-off from both sets of fans, as he played for Chelsea before, even winning a Champions League with the Blue. Meanwhile, the other high-profile goodbye is likely to be Chelsea star man, Eden Hazard.
It’s not yet been confirmed but it seems near on impossible that he won’t be a Real Madrid player next season. Chelsea will definitely miss him – as any team would – but he’s been a great servant and he’ll leave with a tremendous amount of gratitude.
Even though the game will likely be balanced, between two sides who know each other well, the odds are in favour of the ones from South London. It is fair to say that Chelsea does have a much more solid defence, while Arsenal is often leaking goals when Mustafi is at the back. Meanwhile, Arsenal does have more offensive quality, with Aubameyang and Lacazette posing much threat.
MADRID GLORY FOR TWO UNDERACHIEVERS
The other European final will see two managers more established with their current clubs go head to head. Mauricio Pochettino has guided Arsenal’s arch enemy Spurs to an unlikely first time final in history – remarkable when you consider they were 20 minutes away from a group stage elimination – where they’ll be the underdogs against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side, who finished last year as runners up.
Both sides play attractive football and operate with a high press so expect an enthralling encounter because it’s doubtful either manager will change tactics for the biggest game of their season. ‘Poch’ and Klopp are constantly praised for what they’ve achieved with their respective teams but there is one shot that’s fired in both their directions – ‘you’ve not won anything yet’. For one, that taunt will stop.
Pochettino has already got media speculating over his resignation if Spurs are to pull off a shock in the final but, given the occasion, they’ll be under significantly less pressure than Liverpool. The Reds finished streets ahead of Tottenham in the league – albeit it only two places – but Klopp must rouse his troops to come out firing following the low point of their season – finishing second with a record-breaking 97 points and just a solitary league defeat.
The team that ‘never walks alone’ will see this as a beautiful silver lining to their failed attempts at Premier League success – their fans would trade in a heartbeat after 29 years of league disappointment – for Tottenham it could go one of two ways; the springboard to an era of genuine achievement or the catalyst to rip up their squad – that will be over to Daniel Levy to decide as interest is bound to arrive for his manager and their players regardless of the result.
Expect both finals to be balanced on a knife edge with twists and turns. After Liverpool getting a 4-0 comeback at Anfield and Tottenham edging Ajax by scoring 3 goals in a single half (courtesy of Lucas Moura), we can expect a goal fest in this game. Will bravery conquer trepidation? As the odds present themselves at the moment, the most likely soccer bet to win it all is Liverpool to emerge as victors.