- Chelsea manager calls Premier League ‘best in the world’
- Four English teams in the two European finals
Chelsea will play Arsenal in the Europa League final on 29 May with both of Uefa’s major showpieces to be contested by Premier League sides, the first time a single nation has completed a clean sweep of participation at that level.
While Unai Emery’s Arsenal were winning impressively in Valencia courtesy of a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hat-trick,
Eden Hazard scored the decisive spot-kick at Stamford Bridge after Kepa Arrizabalaga had made two saves to deny Eintracht Frankfurt in a penalty shootout.
The London clubs will meet in Baku, three days before Liverpool take on
Tottenham Hotspur in the final of the Champions League in Madrid.
Maurizio Sarri , who has now steered his side to two major finals and a place in the top four of the Premier League in his first season in English football, pointed to the English clean sweep as evidence of the domestic league’s excellence.
“Here the level is very high,” he said. “If you think that, to get to the final of the League Cup, we had to play against Liverpool, against Tottenham – the finalists of the Champions League – and then we played against, in my opinion, the best team in Europe in the final, Manchester City, you can understand the level here is very high.
“At this moment, the Premier League is the best championship in Europe and, as a consequence, in the world.
“But it’s not easy for an English team to arrive in the last month in a very good condition, physically, because here we play more than in the other countries. We played the match No 61 today. In Italy you can play 51 or 52 matches, but those 10 matches is a big difference – [the equivalent of] two and a half months without training.
“But this was a wonderful match against very dangerous opponents. Now we need to rest as much as we can. Unfortunately we have to go to the United States [for a “final whistle on hate” charity game against New England Revolution in Boston on Wednesday] but, when we come back, we’ll have 10 days to prepare for the final and to recover energy.”
The Italian, notoriously superstitious, had refused to go on to the pitch to join his players in a huddle before extra time, and turned away from the last few penalties as Arrizabalaga saved from Gonçalo Paciência and Hazard, with what may prove to be his last touch of a football at Stamford Bridge, scored the winner.
“I don’t want to enter on the pitch,” explained Sarri. “But I don’t need to talk to them. I spoke with [the assistant first-team coach, Gianfranco] Zola so they knew very well what to do. And, with the penalties, I didn’t want to suffer so I don’t know whether Kepa saved well or not.
“We played the first final against Manchester City and lost. So now we want to win. In our opinion, our group deserves to win. We were in trouble three months ago and, here in England, if you’re in trouble the level of opponents is very high and it’s not easy to overcome difficulties. We were able to do it. So now we deserve to win a trophy.”
Hazard said: “Against Arsenal , we’ve struggled a bit the last two or three years.
“So we need to go to Baku with quality to win the game. I always take my responsibility when I have to and, today, I scored and we won. I am happy, the boys are happy, the fans are happy. But it’s not finished.”
He then told BT Sport: “I am only thinking to win something for this club. If it’s my last game I will try to do everything. If it’s not, we’ll see. In my mind I don’t know yet.”
Chelsea and Arsenal, meanwhile, have each been allocated just 6,000 tickets for the final at the 68,700 Olympic Stadium in Baku.