Baku’s Final

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar June 1, 2019 13:12


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Baku’s Final

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By Satish Sekar at the Olimpia Stadium in Baku © Satish Sekar (May 28th 2019)

Countdown to the Most Important Match in Azerbaijan’s History


The controversies pushed to the back-burner, Baku prepares for its biggest football event tomorrow night, even though it is one that involves no Azeri team.

Arsenal and Chelsea will contest the Europa League final tomorrow night. It kicks off at 23.00 local time (20.00 UK time).

Chelsea’s David Luiz was unfazed about the late start tomorrow night, but as Luiz pointed out that is 20.00 in Britain, so it won’t affect them, as their body clocks are still on British time.

The match is important to both teams, perhaps more to Arsenal, as it is now their only hope of Champions League football next season, after a three-season absence. It has added poignancy, as it may the last in club colours of legends Chelsea Eden Hazard and Petr Čech, even though the latter would be playing for Arsenal.

Olivier Giroud may face his old club too. But, in Čech’s case, his former team-mates may face an old club legend, who looks set to join them again, albeit in a new capacity once the season ends.

The Čech Dilemma

“I can speak about Petr Cech a lot,” Arsène Wenger’s successor, Unai Emery, said.

“He is a great man, great professional, nice in his behaviour, it will be last match tomorrow and I want to do something important with him in last moment of his career.

“We want to win for us.”

But sentiment aside Emery has to make a pragmatic decision – his head must rule his heart.

Sentiment aside, does Čech deserve to start ahead of Leno.

“I respect him a lot,” the record-breaking former Sevilla coach said.

“His career is amazing. First as a person, second like a professional goalkeeper. He deserves trust in him.”

Čech is set to play the last match of his illustrious career for club and country, but Emery, while full of respect for the former Chelsea and Czech Republic shot-stopper, should not make a sentimental decision. The benefits at stake are too high.

“Because his career says to us,” Emery said. “He is a gentleman. Tomorrow, he can start or not start. I am going to decide. But both will be with respect. How we cannot believe in him?”

Emery is not a three times winner of the Europa League with Sevilla for nothing. Tomorrow night, he has the chance to become the first coach to win 4 Europa League titles, a powerful personal incentive.

Meanwhile, Chelsea want to win but have less at stake, although Sarri has a lot at stake too. He’s led Chelsea to third place, and back into the Champions League behind two exceptional teams. But, Sarri has not only failed to win supporters over, he’s been booed. Tomorrow night offers a perfect opportunity to win supporters over, win a trophy and gain a powerful negotiating chip if not job security.

Sarri’s Dilemma

A troubled first season in charge for Maurizio Sarri looks likely to see the departure of Eden Hazard to Real Madrid, and he may have to do without his influential defensive midfielder N’Golo Kanté in his season, and Chelsea career-defining match. The former Leicester City star is nursing an injury and is only 50/50 to start according to Sarri.

“I don’t know,” Sarri said when asked if Kanté would be fit.

“He had a little problem on Saturday, a very little problem with his knee.”

It wasn’t a serious injury, but recovery time is the issue.

“It’s not really a very serious injury,” Sarri said. “The problem is the timing, because we had only four days to try to recover him.

“We are trying. At the moment, we don’t know. We will try until the last moment.

We will try tomorrow, but at the moment, we don’t know.”

The prognosis is improving, but possibly not quickly enough.

“He is 50/50 at the moment,” Sarri said before adding: “Yesterday 60/40 for the no; today 50/50. He was a little better this morning.”

Kanté is a very important player for Chelsea, almost irreplaceable.

“But we are in trouble in midfield,” Sarri said, responding to how big a problem it would be if Kanté could not play.

“At the moment, we have only three midfielders for three positions.

“N’Golo is really important for us. He is the only defensive midfielder we have.

“Without N’Golo, it’s a problem for us.”

Sarri also admitted that former Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud may play. Sarri said that Giroud had been impressive in the Europa League.

“In this competition, Olivier was very important for us,” Sarri said. “I have to decide tomorrow, but I have to consider him, I think.”

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar June 1, 2019 13:12