Tempers fraying in the Chelsea camp?
Higuain and Luiz come together in training and Maurizio Sarri is furious!
Chelsea take on Arsenal in the first of this week’s double-header of all-English European finals, a classical example of a London derby in the Europa League final in Baku.
On paper, there’s not a huge amount between these two sides, with both likely to be feeling disappointed with how their seasons went, even if Chelsea at least got that bare minimum requirement of Champions League qualification by finishing third in the Premier League.
Their performances throughout the season have left plenty to be desired, however, and as we edge closer to the big game, it looks like there could be reason to start backing Arsenal to lift the trophy. In fact, we’ve got as many as six reasons for you below. Here’s why you can expect Arsenal to end his first season at Arsenal with silverware…
1) Chelsea injuries
Chelsea will still have a pretty strong team out in Baku that can beat Arsenal on its day, but they will not be helped by some of the big names missing. N’Golo Kante looks unlikely to play, joining Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Antonio Rudiger on the injury list.
Kante’s importance is obvious, while Rudiger has been a regular in Chelsea’s defence this season and will likely be replaced by the unconvincing Andreas Christensen.Further forward, Loftus-Cheek and Hudson-Odoi have not always been regular starters, but have improved a lot as the season’s gone on and found particular joy with opportunities in this competition.
Arsenal don’t have the best midfield in the world, but will fancy their chances a lot more if Kante and Loftus-Cheek aren’t in there as they’ll likely come up against a rather lightweight trio of Jorginho, Mateo Kovacic and Ross Barkley.
2) Chelsea look unsettled
It’s been far from the ideal preparation for the final from Chelsea. Just look at this remarkable video clip below showing a little spat breaking out between David Luiz and Gonzalo Higuain, while manager Maurizio Sarri stormed off the pitch during training.
Tempers fraying in the Chelsea camp?
Higuain and Luiz come together in training and Maurizio Sarri is furious!
While there has since been a fairly innocent explanation put forward by Chelsea, on Sarri’s behaviour at least, it still points towards a manager who’s nervous, and a camp whose team spirit seems to be somewhat lacking.
Pundits Martin Keown and Eidur Gudjohnsen also seemed to think the preparations by CFC players looked ‘rubbish’, with not a lot of particularly intense work going on ahead of this important tie. All we’re saying is, if you’re an Arsenal player watching that tonight, you’ll be feeling that bit more confident about tomorrow night.
3) Maurizio Sarri uncertainty
Even without the incident above, there have been doubts over Sarri’s situation at Chelsea for some time anyway.
The Evening Standard recently reported that several players at the club could look to quit if the former Napoli boss remains in charge next season, while Calciomercato have reported he’s already reached an agreement to become the next Juventus manager. This just does not look like a united squad, with the players seemingly at odds with each other and the man in charge of the team.
4) Emery’s Europa League record
As if you need reminding, but the Spanish tactician has won this trophy a remarkable three times, with his Sevilla side very much a Europa League version of Real Madrid between 2014 and 2016 with three final victories in a row, including a very impressive performance against Liverpool in that 3-1 win three years ago.
While Emery’s overall start to life at the Emirates Stadium hasn’t always been that convincing, he has lived up to his reputation as a strong tactician when it comes to navigating two-legged European ties.
Bizarrely, even while this Gunners outfit were capitulating in the race for fourth in the Premier League, they put in a very convincing display in each leg of their semi-final against Valencia, in contrast to Chelsea struggling past Eintracht Frankfurt and eventually only going through on penalties. In terms of total trophies won, it’s also worrying news for Chelsea, with Emery having ten pieces of silverware to his name in his career, while Sarri has none.
5) Arsenal have the better strikers
Big games like this can be decided on moments of individual quality in attack, or a dreadful mistake in defence. Shkodran Mustafi shouldn’t be starting for Arsenal, so that makes the latter less of a likely worry for them, so it could come down to the quality of the finishing.
Gooners will hope both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette start in Baku, as they have shown in the Europa League just how clinical they are.
Both were superb in the semi-final win over Valencia, with Aubameyang hitting a brilliant hat-trick with Emery’s side needed it most in that second leg.Chelsea, by contrast, don’t have that kind of goal threat in their side, with Gonzalo Higuain proving a total flop since joining on loan, with even the rather limited Olivier Giroud perhaps the better option, though more for his link-up play with Eden Hazard than his goal threat.
6) Arsenal need it more
If this Chelsea squad already look to be low in morale and perhaps lacking in motivation, that shouldn’t be an issue with Arsenal. The north London giants know they need to win this game to get back into the Champions League, while Chelsea already have that wrapped up after finishing higher in the league.
Of course, Arsenal’s need for Champions League football didn’t particularly help them in the final few games of the Premier League season, but in this one-off fixture the task is that much clearer. Add to that that Emery’s Arsenal have generally looked a little better in the big games than they did in recent years under Arsene Wenger, and you’d expect they could really rise to the occasion here.
Eden Hazard has trained as a Real Madrid player for the first time, as reports from Spain say the Belgian is occupying the number 23 shirt for the time being.
The 28-year-old signed from Chelsea for £90m last month, and officially joined the club last week, before joining up with his new team-mates for the first time when they returned to training on Monday.
While we won’t learn much from the early training sessions, with Real’s friendly with Bayern Munich next weekend the first real opportunity we have to get a good look at Zidane’s new side, Spanish press have been all over the first session of the new era.
Focusing on Hazard, AS report that he has been training with the number 23, although they speculate that this may just be until Mariano Diaz moves on, in which case he is likely to inherit the number seven shirt which was made iconic by Raul and Cristiano Ronaldo.
They also report on a friendly reunion between Hazard and Thibaut Courtois, and that early medical testing was successful.
Meanwhile, Marca report that Gareth Bale was present and correct despite rumours he could be leaving the club in the days and weeks to come, adding that with Hazard, Rodrygo and Luka Jovic all in the building, the Welshman might find his game-time limited.
He is expected to travel with the team as normal until his future is sorted out.
MORE FROM SOCCER
Nigeria’s pedigree in Africa which makes them perennial contenders of the 2019 African Cup of Nations (AFCON), would be tested again as they reignite rivalry with one of African football’s underrated achievers, the Bafana Bafana of South Africa, in the quarter-finals encounter at Cairo International Stadium on later tonight.
Surprise package South Africa have offered clear signs of resurgence at the tournament following a fallow few years in which their own fans have often questioned their players and performances.
The 1996 tournament winners were expected to offer minimal resistance to an Egypt side spearheaded by Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, but turned heads with a vibrant performance that impressively matched The Pharaohs in their backyard and allowed South Africa to emerge as worthy winners by the only goal of the game.
Nigeria, who are three-time winners, lifted the trophy in South Africa in 2013 and have lost just one of their last 11 matches – that setback against Madagascar in their final group game, when coach Gernot Rohr rested several players.
The Super Eagles are as instantly familiar as their shimmering green shirts when it comes to the final four of this competition, although they will know from results so far – as well as their own malaise in losing 2-0 to Madagascar – that a semi-final spot is no certainty.
A victory would give the three-time champions a sixth successive slot in the semi-finals and enhance their current run of three wins from their last four.
Nigeria’s concerns will be heightened by the most recent meetings between the two teams as the Bafana Bafana enjoyed a 2-0 win in their encounter during the early stages of qualifying for AFCON 2019, although Rohr’s men earned a 1-1 draw in the return fixture last November.
That first-leg win in 2017 is South Africa’s only competitive victory in their meetings with Nigeria, although they won 2-1 in a friendly in 2004 and have not lost to these opponents in almost six years.
Bafana Bafana getting ready for the Super Eagles of Nigeria on Wednesday.
Kick off 21h00
Three goals by players with plenty of Premier League experience helped the Super Eagles knock out reigning champions Cameroon during a frenetic 3-2 round-of-16 clash in which the Gernot Rohr showed their ruthlessness in response to having far less possession than the holders.
South Africa supporters – particularly those who follow the country’s Premier Soccer League – were particularly relieved to see Thembinkosi Lorch grab the heroic 85th-minute winner against Egypt in their own round of 16 encounter at the Cairo International Stadium.
Nigeria will receive a significant boost should John Obi Mikel return from an injury that forced him to limp out of the defeat to Madagascar. Rohr is understandably eager to involve the former Chelsea midfielder again, and told reporters that he has been tentatively running in a bid to be ready for the quarter-final.
Mikel, who took part in a light training session on Sunday, could be restored as captain, while there is likely to be further good news on the fitness of Shehu Abdullahi. The Bursaspor defender left the late group stage win over Burundi with a hamstring injury but is in contention for a starting berth after returning to the bench against Cameroon.
Ighalo is the tournament’s joint top scorer with three goals, and his ratio of 93 minutes per goal means he has been narrowly less prolific than Senegal and Liverpool rival Sadio Mane.
South Africa coach Baxter spoke with satisfaction of the surprise his bold selection and relatively cavalier attacking approach sprung on their round-of-16 victims.
While the Bafana Bafana boss might seek to emulate that unpredictability by introducing more changes, the greater likelihood is an untouched lineup that will, if nothing else, reward his victorious players and please their increasingly optimistic fans.
South Africa have found a formula that makes them a threat to any team and their opportunistic counter-attacking could set up sucker-punches. That risk aside, Nigeria’s nous and firepower should see them through.
Nigeria’s Recent AFCON form: WWLW
Recent form (all competitions): DWWWLW
South Africa’s Recent AFCON form: LWLW
Recent form (all competitions): DDLWLW
Nigeria possible starting lineup:
Akpeyi; Awaziem, Troost-Ekong, Omeruo, Aina; Ndidi, Etebo; Iwobi, Mikel, Musa; Ighalo
South Africa possible starting lineup:
Williams; Hlanti, Mkhwanazi, Hlatshwayo, Mkhize; Furman, Zungu, Mokotjo; Lorch, Mothiba, Tau
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