LONDON (Reuters) – Four clubs from the same country will feature in the finals of Europe’s two club competitions for the first time after Chelsea and Arsenal sealed their passage to the Europa League title decider in Baku on May 29.
Their success came after Liverpool pulled off an astonishing 4-3 aggregate win against Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur beat Ajax Amsterdam on the away goals rule to set up an all-English Champions League final in Madrid on June 1.
Having squeezed into the knockout stages of the competition after taking one point from their opening three group matches, Tottenham trailed 3-0 on aggregate against Ajax before Lucas Moura completed a hat-trick with a 96th minute strike to secure Spurs a spot in their first European Cup final.
Chelsea and Arsenal enjoyed plain sailing through their respective Europa League groups with both teams collecting 16 points from a possible 18, albeit against unfancied rivals.
Arsenal were made to work hard for a 4-3 aggregate win over Stade Rennes in the round of 16 after losing the first leg in France 3-1, before a sound 3-0 overall rout of Napoli in the quarter-finals traced the path to a 7-3 drubbing of Valencia.
Chelsea romped through the opening three rounds of the knockout stages en route to a dramatic penalty shootout win over Eintracht Frankfurt after both legs of their gruelling semi-final ended in 1-1 draws.
The Blues and their under-fire manager Maurizio Sarri can now end the season on a high after securing a top-four finish in the Premier League, and Champions League football next season, with a match to spare.
Arsenal, in contrast, have only a mathematical chance of finishing in the top four in the Premier League and their hopes of reaching next season’s Champions League almost certainly depends on them winning Europe’s second tier competition.
Either way, the clash between London’s bitter cross-town rivals in Azerbaijan’s capital on May 29 should be a perfect appetizer for the main course featuring Liverpool and Spurs at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid on June 1.