Chelsea's road to the Europa League final
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Chelsea's road to the Europa League final

Chelsea will face Arsenal in an all-London final in Azerbaijan, but how did they get there? 

joseph-lightfoot
Joseph Lightfoot

Chelsea face Arsenal on Wednesday in one of the biggest games of their recent history, the Europa League final. 

This trophy isn’t even about earning Champions League football anymore… it is instead about the Blues announcing themselves back to the competitive scene of Europe’s elite teams.

By all accounts, the match is huge: it is the first of two all English European finals, it is against London rivals Arsenal, it will be Maurizio Sarri’s first ever major honour as a manager, and it will confirm that Chelsea have had great season finishing third in the Premier League and lifting the Europa League.

But how did they get there? It must be said, Chelsea’s road to the final has been one of the most resounding runs of any current or previous European finalist.

A decent group stage

To call Chelsea’s undefeated and table topping group stage campaign ‘decent’ may be doing it a slight injustice. They did though, come up against PAOK, Vidi and Bate Borisov.

Their opening two games against PAOK and Vidi ended in a rather underwhelming 1-0 victory which left Sarri wanting more - this became a common theme in Chelsea’s road to the final.

Their second game at Stamford Bridge was much the more impressive as they crushed Bate 3-1 in London. Perhaps Chelsea’s biggest take from this match, other than earning their third consecutive three points, was Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s most impressive display in a Blues shirt.

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The youngster ran the show and scored his first senior hat-trick to announce himself on the European stage.

It was a different story in the reverse fixture. Chelsea managed to squeeze a result out of a hard-fought match to beat Bate 1-0 away from home. Olivier Giroud grabbed his first of the campaign.

Next, came the Blues' most impressive group-stage performance when they hosted POAK. A brace from Giroud combined with goals from Alvaro Morata and the up-and-coming Callum Hudson-Odoi sealed an impressive 4-0 victory.

Chelsea had already qualified following this performance, but suffered their first draw when they travelled to Budapest. Another goal from Giroud saved his side versus Vidi and protected their undefeated record late on in the game.

Overall their group stage campaign was successful. Despite a handful of underwhelming results, Sarri's men ultimately went through with the best defensive record in the competition.

The knockout stage begins

Chelsea faced Malmo FF in the Round of 32 and travelled to Sweden off the back of a hammering to Manchester City in the Premier League. The Blues looked to have put aside their domestic troubles and were comfortable for much of the game with a 2-0 lead before conceding a late goal to cast doubt over the tie.

In turn though, that posed little cause for concern in the return leg at Stamford Bridge as the West London club won 3-0 to win the first knockout round 5-1 on aggregate.

Giroud and Ross Barkley scored in both legs and were continuing to impress throughout the competition.

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Cheslea could win this

Chelsea became one of the real favourites after their undoing of Dynamo Kyiv. Pre-match, the Russian side were suggested to be Sarri’s toughest opponents yet.

However, the Blues won the tie 8-0 on aggregate and cemented their title as the competition’s overall top scorers.

This Europa League campaign was proving to be a way for Sarri to implement Hudson-Odoi into first-team football, and it proved dividends too as the young winger scored consecutively to help his side progress to the quarter-finals.

Chelsea squeeze through

The Slavia Prague home support meant thet Chelsea struggled in the away-leg of their quarter-final showdown. 

The intense atmosphere inside the Eden Arena most certainly had its impact on the Chelsea players as they were restricted for much of the game, before Marcos Alonso headed in late on to give the Blues a crucial away goal.

It was a similar story at Stamford Bridge as the Czech Republic champions continued to cause Chelsea problems. After taking a 3-0 lead, the Blues nearly crumbled and narrowly won the match 4-3.

Giroud became the top scorer in the campaign after scoring his 10th goal in the second-leg.

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Hazard is the hero… again

Luka Jovic posed his well-documented threat after scoring for Eintracht Frankfurt in both legs of the semi-final stage.

Pedro in the first-leg, and then Loftus-Cheek in the second made it back-to-back 1-1 draws, meaning that penalties could be the only thing left to separate the two sides.

Eden Hazard, in typical fashion, scored the winning penalty to send his side through to the final.

The sublime Belgian had featured irregularly for much of Cheslea’s Europa League campaign, which allowed him to be fit for action in the Premier League.

The final

Never before has a side gone unbeaten in an entire Europa League competition. Chelsea have the chance to the first on Wednesday and may do so with the best defensive record, most goals and a top goal scorer.

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If they win it, Sarri and his side will have performed the most emphatic, well-constructed and resounding of all European competition victories.

Unai Emery and his Arsenal side stand in their way, and it's poised to be an exciting encounter in Baku, albeit with limited fans in attendance.

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