Chelsea survive, hold off Slavia Prague to advance to Europa League semis

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Chelsea advanced to the UEFA Europa League semifinals on Thursday evening, but not without a few heart-stopping moments at both ends of the field.

Chelsea defeated Slavia Prague, 4-3, (5-3 on aggregate) in a seven-goal thriller that looked at one point to be headed for double digits in combined goals. Pedro scored a pair of goals, the first on a wonderful team effort, while Olivier Giroud and an own goal also helped Chelsea’s cause.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box scores ]

While Chelsea ran out to an impressive 4-1 lead on the night at the halftime break, Slavia Prague was kept in the game thanks to the right leg of Petr Ševčík, who scored twice early in the second half to make it a game again, and put Slavia just two goals away from an improbable result at Stamford Bridge.

After Tottenham’s wild finish past Manchester City, anything seems to be possible these days. However, Chelsea held down the fort late and survived to advance to the next round.

In the match, Chelsea displayed some of the beautiful soccer that had made Maurizio Sarri such a prized figure in coaching circles. Chelsea’s first goal featured a litany of one-touch passes and great off the ball movement, ending with a Pedro goal.

Chelsea went up 2-0 thanks to an own goal we’ve rarely seen before, as Pedro fired a shot that cannon’d off the post, popped up in the air and directed off Slavia Prague defender Simon Dell and into his own net. Then Giroud scored before Pedro finished at the first post again on what should have been his hat-trick to put Chelsea up 4-1.

However, Ševčík wasn’t finished yet, and the Czech midfielder popped a pair of great goals to make for some nervy moments late at Stamford Bridge. Ultimately, though, Chelsea was able to move on and advance to the semifinals. Chelsea will next face Eintracht Frankfort, which completed a terrific home comeback with a 2-0 win to go through past Benfica on away goals, tied 4-4 on aggregate.

Live, Europa League: Chelsea, Arsenal 90 mins from semis

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Eden Hazard and Chelsea enter Stamford Bridge with hopes of holding off visitors Slavia Prague and taking another step to the Europa League final in Azerbaijan.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League Last 16 ]

Antonio Rudiger misses out with injury for Maurizio Sarri‘s men.

Speaking of Sarri, any hopes of meeting old side Napoli are slim thanks to the Neapolitans’ 2-0 first leg setback at Arsenal.

The Gunners will hope to handle Napoli’s threat in Italy, and Unai Emery will attack with both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette up top.

All matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET

Schedule

Chelsea v. Slavia Prague (Chelsea leads 1-0)
Napoli v. Arsenal (Arsenal leads 2-0)
Valencia v. Villarreal (Valencia leads 3-1)
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Benfica (Eintracht leads 4-2)

Video shows Lazio fans’ racist chants aimed at Chelsea loanee Bakayoko

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ROME (AP) A video has emerged of Lazio fans directing a racist chant at AC Milan midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko.

The video posted on the Gazzetta dello Sport website shows fans singing, “This banana is for Bakayoko,” during Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Udinese at the Stadio Olimpico.

[ MORE: Pochettino “not optimistic” on Kane ]

It was an apparent response to Bakayoko and Milan teammate Franck Kessie waving the shirt of Lazio defender Francesco Acerbi in front of their supporters like a trophy after a 1-0 win on Saturday.

Bakayoko, who is black, is on loan from Chelsea.

Lazio fans have a long history of racist and anti-Semitic episodes.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Chelsea, Pulisic may tour U.S. in 2020

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Chelsea has announced intent to visit the United States in the Summer of 2020.

Blues chairman Bruce Buck says the club “has work to do in Middle America” as it’s built up what he believes to be significant support on the coasts of the United States.

[ MORE: Pochettino “not optimistic” on Kane ]

Chelsea will be in Boston next month to play MLS side New England Revolution in a friendly billed “The Final Whistle on Hate.”

But Buck knows that Americans have plenty of interest in new signing Christian Pulisic, who will still be with Borussia Dortmund when Chelsea visits the U.S. in May.

“He’s a personable boy. He’s well-liked in this country,” Buck told the Associated Press. “So of course I would expect him when we come here and play some friendly matches, which is what our objective is in the summer of 2020. Then, yes, I think he will be helpful.”

American fans have been skeptical about how much of Chelsea’s interest in Pulisic was based on potential for stardom versus potential for marketing appeal in the States, but it’s important to note that this article could’ve been written about signing a top Mexican player and touring Mexico, or a Japanese star and heading to Asia.

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Chelsea nurse advantages

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Only one of four Europa League quarterfinals sees two clubs within a goal of each other after 90 minutes, and that’s heavily-favored Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat of Slavia Prague in the Czech Republic.

So while it’s possible that the Czech side rebounds to take care of the Blues at Stamford Bridge, it’s rational to say that tie might be the least in the balance.

[ UCL RECAPS: Man City-Spurs | Porto-Liverpool ]

Olivier Giroud says Chelsea will not be overlooking the Red and Whites, if only because of the challenge presented in the first leg.

“We were very impressed by their quality and intensity,” Giroud said, from Chelsea.com. “You get used to it in the Premier League, but honestly the first half was very tough. They put a lot of pressure on us, good pressing all over the pitch, so it was a very tough. … So we know what kind of team we will face tomorrow. They are not going to give up, and that’s why we are still cautious about this game.”

Arsenal leads its tie 2-0 after the London-hosted first leg but faces a Napoli team quite capable of putting up goals in bunches.

Napoli averages almost two goals a match in Serie A this season, but Arsenal defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos says the Gunners can get the job done in Italy.

“I know my team,” he said via Arsenal.com. “I know that we are a team who play very good football. Every game we fight for the best. From the beginning we’ve improved a lot. Now we’re in the last steps of the Premier League and Europa League, and we want to win as much as we can. This is one more final and we’ll be ready to take this.”

Eintracht Frankfurt bagged four away goals and a two-goal advantage in Portugal, leaving Benfica in likely need of a three goals or better win, while Valencia scored three times at Villarreal to bring a two-goal advantage home.

Kickoff for all four second legs is 3 p.m. ET