Slavia Prague

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.

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

Europa League: Alonso gives Chelsea advantage over Slavia Prague, and more (video)

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In what had been a quiet affair, it was Marcos Alonso of all people who popped up late to score the winning goal.

Chelsea defeated Slavia Prague, 1-0 on a header in the 84th minute by Alsonso, latching onto a terrific cross from Willian to find the breakthrough. The win puts Chelsea in the driver’s seat to advance to the Europa League semifinals, with a lead and an away goal.

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The goal is a big boost for Marcos Alonso, who has struggled mightily at times this year and has been benched in recent Premier League games for Emerson as the team’s left wing back. In addition, it cools the coach’s seat ever more for Maurizio Sarri, who could still secure a top-four finish and even potentially win the Europa League.

Slavia Prague was lively and energetic in the opening half hour, putting pressure on Chelsea’s defense and pinning the Blues back in their own half for long stretches. However, Slavia never managed to get a good shot on target, with strikes either right at Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa or wife of the net.

Willian, who was dangerous all night along the wings, hit a shot off the crossbar in the 25th minute, but that was the extent of Chelsea’s dangerous chances. That is, until Eden Hazard was introduced 14 minutes into the second half. Hazard’s dribbling ability and skill on the ball forced Slavia to shade his way, which led to more Chelsea chances down Willian’s side, and eventually may have played a role in the winner.

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Elsewhere, Benfica’s 19-year-old budding star Joao Felix had himself a day, scoring a hat-trick as Benfica topped Eintracht Frankfurt, 4-2. Felix scored a hat-trick, fired home a laser into the bottom corner, and then scored on a low strike in the box. Felix also had an assist off a corner kick that was headed in. It was a heck of a match for the teenager, and if Europe’s biggest clubs weren’t already on his radar, they are now.

In Spain, former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla scored a penalty kick but it wasn’t enough as Valencia picked up a confidence-boosting 3-1 win on the road over Villarreal. Portugal international Goncalo Guedes finished with two goals for Valencia.

At the Half: Ramsey, Torreira help give Arsenal early lead, Chelsea still scoreless

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Arsenal started Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil together for one of the few times all season.

So of course, Arsenal’s two central midfielders have found the scoresheet so far.

At halftime, Arsenal holds an impressive 2-0 lead over Napoli at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday evening, with Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Torreira both finding the back of the net. Ramsey scored in the 14th minute off a great pass in the box from Ainsley Maitland-Niles while Torreira created his own goal almost out of nothing.

Torreira forced a turnover at midfield and then ran at Napoli’s defense before switching the ball to his left foot and unleashing a low strike. The shot deflected off Napoli star centerback Kalidou Koulibaly and wrong-footed goalkeeper Alex Meret for a goal. The goal has been listed as an own goal, but it may have been on target before the deflection.

In the Czech Republic, Chelsea is holding strong to a scoreless tie with Slavia Prague.

Here’s a look at Arsenal’s two first half goals.

Europa League Preview: Chelsea, Arsenal take next steps

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The Europa League quarterfinals begin Thursday, with Arsenal home to Napoli in the most tantalizing of four solid match-ups.

[ MORE: UCL summations for each quarterfinalist ]

All of the first legs kick off at 3 p.m. ET


Arsenal v. Napoli

Alexandre Lacazette says the match-up with Serie A’s serial runners-up is a toss-up.

“Napoli has a big history like us. Now they are second in the table after Juventus and making a big difference with other important teams. They are playing very well. They have come from the Champions League but from a strong group with Liverpool. They were very competitive in this group. I know it’s going to be very difficult for us but we have confidence.”

Benfica v. Eintracht Frankfurt

If any of these match-ups are a true toss-up, it’s this one. And it comes right down to table standing, relative to league. Benfica is in a dogfight for first on the Portuguese table, while Eintracht Frankfurt is scrapping to stay in the Bundesliga’s Top Four.

Eintracht and Benfica both have brilliant attacks (and imagine if Benfica hadn’t loaned Raul Jimenez to Wolves). This one could be as good as it gets in the UEL.

Villarreal v. Valencia

Two sides who’ve met each other often and also both had success in Europe square off for a semifinal spot. Villarreal remains in a La Liga relegation place and this game comes three days before a six-pointer against Girona, while Valencia has a placement fight on its hands, too (albeit to re-qualify for the Europa League).

Slavia Prague v. Chelsea

Maurizio Sarri is not going to be sleeping on his Czech opponents, especially just three rounds from a Champions League place.

“They are very dangerous,” Sarri said. “They scored six goals in two matches against Sevilla. We need to be very compact and to defend very well. Especially on crosses they attack the box with five or six players, and they are dangerous on counter-attacks. It won’t be easy for us.”