England has taken over Europe. How has this happened!? Not only have Liverpool and Spurs set up a Spanish face off for the European Cup, London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal are the two clubs who can accurately say "how do we get there I don't know, how do we get there I don't care, all I know is we are on our way." On their way to (The?) Baku of course.
In fact, this thought has just come to mind, has a single city been the home to three of the four European finalists before!? That was a side note, apologies, let's get back to business and understand how Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery guided their teams to Azerbaijan.
Arsenal, it's fair to say, were the big winners in the semi finals, a 7-3 aggregate victory over Valencia. In the build up, this was seen as the much tighter tie, and there was a 50-50 split in terms of belief over who would advance. With the first leg at The Emirates, what was crucial for Los Che was to grab an away goal, and 11 minutes into the game they did exactly that, a header from young French defender Mouctar Diakhaby. However, what they didn't perhaps bank on was Arsenal's ever more impressive strike partnership of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Two goals from Lacazette in the first half would have the game finely poised at 2-1, a result which would still have suited Valencia, but the third goal in the 90th minute from Aubameyang changed the outlook of the tie completely. Valencia scoring two goals was not impossible, but Arsenal scoring in the Mestalla would make it very hard for Los Murcielagos.
And Valencia would again strike first, it would again come from a French player (this time Kevin Gameiro) and it was also in the 11th minute (spooky!) but merely 6 minutes later Aubameyang got what I think was the tie killing goal. For it to come as quickly as the first goal would have killed any momentum the Spaniards would have had. And if that didn't quite kill the hopes of the home support, Lacazette scoring on the 50th minute certainly would have. From there, things got rather mental. Gameiro would reply 8 minutes later to maybe offer some crumb of hope, but two more goals for Gabonese star Auba (I've given up on trying to write his full name) in the 69th and 88th minute would secure the Gooners journey to Eurasia.
But who would join them? Well at full time they were none the wiser as Chelsea and Eintracht Frankfurt were at a total stalemate. Having drawn 1-1 in Germany (Luka Jovic and Pedro on the scoresheet) they would again reach that score line at Stamford Bridge, Ruben Loftus-Cheek striking in the first half before an early second half goal from that man, once again, Luka Jovic. With neither side able to grab an extra time winner, although both went mighty close, we finally had a penalty shoot out in European competition this season! And Chelsea would blink first as Cesar Azpilicueta (why does ever Europa League player need to have a million letters in their name!?) couldn't put the ball past Kevin Trapp. It all looked like Frankfurt would reach the final, but Martin Hinteregger's penalty was stopped by Kepa Arrizabalaga (see what I mean!?) and soon after another stop from Kepa to deny Paciencia meant that Eden Hazard, with possibly his last kick at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea player, would send Chelsea fans into rapturous celebrations...wasn't quite Fiorentina was it lads?
Nevertheless, I'm sure a large number of football fans from London will travel to Baku to watch their team hopefully lift the Europa League. Only problem with that however, is that each club have been given an allocation of 6,000 tickets. No, that's not a typo. I really wish it was but that's the ridiculously small number of tickets given to fans. Can you imagine if we actually got to Baku? This is scandalous. Now you could argue that maybe the Olympic Stadium in Azerbaijan is a smaller capacity than normal final host grounds? Well...no. It holds 68,700. So, having consulted experts, I can confirm that there are still over 56,000 seats available for the final. You could take 20,000 off of that, give each side 16,000 seats, and still have plenty of corporate tickets available. But that's not important to UEFA is it? They want to sell the expensive tickets to all their sponsors, all their glamorous and shiny people, because that's who UEFA clearly care about, not the supporters. With the prices still being ludicrous, and don't get me started on the tickets for the Champions League final at the Wanda, I have a message for UEFA.
This game is first and foremost for the fans. Prioritise us. Without us, you don't get the corporate funders. You have to do better than this.
Anyway, rant over, as the football season nearly is, so picking games to watch this weekend is a bit more tricky. But we have options! Your pre Old Firm viewing could come in the form of some Serie A action, when Fiorentina host AC Milan on Premier Sports 1 at 19:30. Both these teams are shit out of form, but boy do Milan need the win. Not only from a point of view of keeping in touch of Champions League qualification, but also an emotional point of view, as the vultures look to be circling around Rino Gattuso's position as Milan manager. The twist of fate that football can give you of course is that he will be up against former Milan gaffer Vincenzo Montella, who himself really needs to get some form on the go with La Viola. They've been rotten ever since Adam Thornton visited them, what a jinx he is!
On Sunday, and I'm aware that this is all very dependant on our post Old Firm mood, you may wish to catch some French football when Marseille host Lyon at 20:00 on BT Sport 1. I didn't quite realise this but Marseille are in danger of missing out on Europe altogether. With Strasbourg and Rennes secure of Europa League football through their respective cup wins, Marseille currently lie 5th, with 4th being the only available Europa League spot. A win would move them closer to 3rd placed Lyon, who themselves will be wanting to keep distance between themselves and rivals Saint-Ettiene, the team currently occupying that 4th spot. 3rd place gets you a Champions League qualifying round place, and with second looking set to be Lille's, that's Lyon's best hope of returning to the promised land again. If you do watch this game, have a look at how Marseille play. Would this suit a certain Alfredo Morelos? Can you envisage Alfie taking Mario Balotelli's place in that side? Could be interesting.
On a related note, I want to start a transfer rumour. Let's see if we can get this spread. Mario Balotelli will leave Marseille this summer and return to Italy, where he has decided to sign for his boyhood club, the newly promoted Brescia.
Until we speak again, happy watching!