Finals are not for playing, they are for winning.
It’s a line credited to José Mourinho most recently. He probably didn’t invent it. But he espoused it with every ounce of his being. And he implanted it into the Chelsea consciousness in his first three years at the club, from 2004 to 2007.
Since then, Chelsea have collected 10 cup trophies (5 FA Cup, 3 League Cup, 1 each of CL and EL), in addition to the 5 Premier League titles. More importantly, we’ve lost just 4 major finals (FA Cup once, League Cup twice, Champions League once), and 3 minor ones (Super Cup twice, Club World Cup once).
Since 2004, only 4 seasons finished without a trophy:
- 2007-08, when we lost two finals
- 2010-11, which spelled the end of Ancelotti
- 2013-14, which didn’t spell the end of Mourinho Mk.II
- 2014-16, which did
So today, above all else, is a chance to continue that winning habit, that trophy tradition. The Europa League may not be the most glamorous competition, and certainly not in its present staging, and it may in fact be the “easiest” competition we’ve entered all season (as Sarri likes to point out), but it’s still a European trophy and those don’t come along every day. It’s only the 6th such opportunity in fact, with Chelsea winning 4 out of the previous 5 European finals:
- ATHENS, 1971 Cup Winners’ Cup: 2-1 win over Real Madrid in a replay two days after a 1-1 draw. Peter Osgood with a goal in each game, center back John Dempsey with a rare goal as well.
- STOCKHOLM, 1998 Cup Winners’ Cup: 1-0 win over VfB Stuttgart; Gianfranco Zola with the game’s only goal, just moments after coming on as a substitute.
- MOSCOW, 2008.
- MUNICH, 2012. Written in the stars.
- AMSTERDAM, 2013, Europa League: 2-1 win over Benfica as Torres (!) scores and Ivanović wins it with a late-late header.
Time to make history.
Date / Time: Wednesday, May 29, 2019, 20:00 BST; 3pm EDT; 12:30am (IST; next day); 11pm local Baku-time
Venue: Baku Olympic Stadium, Baku, Azerbaijan
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi — Good omens for us as the highly experienced Italian official has been in charge of three Chelsea games, though none since 2014. All three were Chelsea wins, including one each in 2011-12 (3-0 vs. Valencia) and 2012-13 (3-1 vs. Rubin Kazan), when we ended up with a European trophy. The third was a 1-0 win over Steaua Bucharest in the group stages of the 2013-14 Champions League, a competition which we “should” have also won but that’s not how these things work. Rocchi has officiated four Arsenal matches, of which they’ve won just one. He was in charge of their 5-1 defeat at Bayern in 2015 as well as last’s year 1-0 defeat at Atlético Madrid in the Europa League semifinal second leg.
VAR: Yes — only for “clear and obvious errors” occurring on goals, build-up to goals, incidents in the penalty area, red cards, and cases of mistaken identity.
Forecast: Warm, despite the late hour
On TV: BT Sport 2 (UK); TNT, UniMás (USA); Sony TEN 2 (India); elsewhere
Chelsea team news: All eyes on N’Golo Kanté’s knee. At last check, the prognosis was “50-50”, which isn’t exactly confidence-inducing one day before a game. If he cannot start, Chelsea will be without four players who had been key to the second-half of the season, including Antonio Rüdiger (meniscus), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Achilles), and Callum Hudson-Odoi (Achilles).
The number of questions and uncertainties facing the team after this game are absolutely staggering. The futures of Eden Hazard and Maurizio Sarri, the club’s transfer ban situation, the number of long-term injuries that could stretch well into next season ... and that’s just a small sampling.
All the more reason to focus on this game and this game alone and bring the trophy home.
Arsenal team news: All eyes on Petr Čech, who’s set to retire and probably return to Chelsea in a non-playing role. He of course wants to end his playing career with a trophy, even if that may prove awkward on his first day as Chelsea sporting director (or whathaveyou) in a few weeks.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan did not travel with the team due to safety concerns over the geopolitical situation between his home country and the neighboring host nation. (Just another reason why this choice in venue by UEFA is a shameful decision.) Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey, fashion maverick Hector Bellerin, and fun YouTube personality Rob Holding are injured. Danny Welbeck isn’t (for once!) and may even play.
The Gunners “need” this more than the Blues as a loss consigns them to another year of Europa League shenanigans. Yet all the more reason for us to win.
View from the enemy: The Short Fuse
Previously: May not be as famous or as well remembered as the victory 12 months prior, but the 2013 Europa League final against Benfica was quite dramatic and fun as well.