Cesar Azpilicueta will lead out Chelsea tonight against Eintracht Frankfurt in the first leg of the Europa League semifinal, where Chelsea will look to maintain our unbeaten record in this season’s competition, and add to our strong record against German opposition (just one loss in ten, with five wins). Eintracht won’t be pushovers by any means, of course.
But before all that, Azpilicueta took to the podium as part of the pre-match media duties, and started off by sending a warm message of support to his friend and Spain teammate Iker Casillas, who suffered a heart attack in training at Porto yesterday (Casillas has since posted on social media that the problem is “under control”).
“It was the first thing I wanted to say before any questions: I want to wish him a good recovery. It’s tough, the news, but we’ve been told he’s doing well and improving. He was my team-mate in the national team for quite a few years, so from me and everyone in Chelsea, we want to wish him a good recovery and hope to see him very soon on the pitch.”
With just two games from the final, Azpilicueta is happy to be close to winning another trophy, but even happier that winning it would mean no more Thursday games next season. As much as he has fond memories of winning the Europa League back in 2012-13, it has some significant drawbacks as well in terms of travel, scheduling, and fatigue.
“Obviously, the last time we won it we arrived in the Europa League by being knocked out of the Champions League in the group stage. Our target is to be back in the Champions League as soon as possible. Because of last year, we started in the Europa League in September. It’s a long way to reach the final, travelling every Thursday. We’ve struggled in the Premier league after Europa League games because they take a lot of energy. Hopefully we can be in the Champions League next season, but we’ve worked hard to be here this day.
“It was my first trophy with Chelsea, and the first trophy is always special. I have great memories from it, but it’s something different to the Premier League. When you’re fighting for 38 games, the way we did with both, was something we’re really proud of. Europa League isn’t the biggest competition in Europe, but it’s the second. A lot of teams, big teams, could be here but they are out. It’s our moment to step up and try and win it a second time.”
Chelsea’s task has been made harder by key injuries to Callum Hudson-Odoi and Antonio Rüdiger, both of whom are done for the season. With Gary Cahill and Ethan Ampadu also injured, Azpilicueta had been tabbed as the backup center back by Maurizio Sarri. Obviously, Azpilicueta spent the previous two seasons playing as a very, very good (right-sided) center back in Conte’s three-man backline, so he’s more than ready to take on that challenge once again, if needed.
“Antonio is a very important player for us. To miss any player at this stage is not the best news we could have. Antonio is a strong man. When we heard the news, we spoke with him, sent him a quick recovery. We know he’ll be back as soon as possible, and fit enough to keep his level. Obviously, it’s not good news to lose him for the final games of the season. We wish him a quick recovery, and I’m sure he’ll be backing us from his house.”
“I’m ready to play wherever the manager asks me to play. I’ve played centre-back for Chelsea and the national team. It’s true, the last couple of months I’ve played at right-back or left-back, a few times, but I can adapt to different positions. I enjoy whatever the manager thinks is useful for the team. I’m ready for whatever.”
It’s all for the team, with the Captain leading by example as he should. And while the Europa League may not have the cachet of the Champions League, but we’re here now, so we might as well win it!
“Here in Chelsea, every season we start and go for every trophy. You can be out of some of them, but at the moment we’re in the semi-final of the Europa League. We’ve come a long way to be here. Many good teams haven’t reached the last four. So, for us, winning a trophy is a priority. That’s our aim, starting with a good game tomorrow. It’s 180 minutes and maybe extra-time. We have to be ready and hopefully we’ll be in Baku on 29 May.”
— Cesar Azpilicueta; source: Football.london
Let’s keep that winning tradition going!