Chelsea will face Arsenal in the Europa League final after beating Eintracht Frankfurt on penalties despite a shocking second-half display here.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored for the hosts just shy of the half-hour mark following Eden Hazard’s excellence – too often taken for granted at Stamford Bridge over the past seven years.
Chelsea never looked in real control, though, and were a mess after Luka Jovic levelled the score, Maurizio Sarri losing his head, and his side without a plan on the pitch.
Extra-time came and went, goal-line clearances keeping Chelsea in it before, in the shootout, Kepa turned things on their head after Cesar Azpilicueta saw his spot-kick saved, allowing Hazard to send the Blues to Baku.
Having witnessed their top-four rivals Liverpool and Tottenham pull of the seemingly impossible in the Champions League over the previous two nights, Chelsea will have been hoping for a far easier evening against the Germans.
It would take a miracle similar to those seen at Anfield and in Amsterdam this week to ensure that this wasn’t Hazard’s final appearance at Stamford Bridge in a Chelsea shirt.
He would make his mark tonight, whatever happened. The Matthew Harding Lower knew it too, with a banner bearing his image and name unfurled ahead of kick-off.
More urgently, Chelsea could have been on the back-foot within five minutes, Kepa forced to save after the exciting Jovic, who could be lining up with Hazard at the Bernabeu next season, rose above David Luiz at a corner.
Frankfurt where making themselves known, in the stands and on the pitch. Jovic and adventurous full-back Danny da Costa harried and pressed their hosts, but gaps were left on the break for Chelsea, who were denied an early chance to take hold of this tie.
Da Costa, marauding back from one of his frequent excursions down the right, was caught out when Olivier Giroud’s touch rather fortuitously found Loftus-Cheek at the far post. The 25-year-old barged into the back of the England midfielder. However, referee Ovidiu Hategan was having none of it, with the home support dismayed.
It so nearly cost Chelsea too, were Kepa not alive to a quickly taken side-foot volley from Da Costa in the Blues box, diving high and to his left to turn the dipping effort behind.
Chelsea had to put a stop to the to and fro of this encounter and, as has been the case all season here in west London, they looked to Hazard.
Probing down the left, this time his path was blocked. Back inside he went, taking Frankfurt centre-half and captain David Abraham with him before whipping a perfect ball through to Loftus-Cheek, alone and one-on-one with goalkeeper Kevin Trapp.
An assured finish into the far corner eased the nerves here and capped a strong first half for the England international.
Chelsea held the advantage at the break but were kept waiting by their visitors before the restart, and were caught cold within minutes, Luiz weak in attempting to stop Jovic, who simply chested down to Mijat Gacinovic before moving swiftly behind Chelsea’s Brazilian defender and stroking past Kepa.
Such is Frankfurt’s confidence in their Serbian forward, Ante Rebic had his arms above his head in celebration before the striker had even begun his backlift.
Kepa again kept Chelsea level, stopping a rasping effort from Gacinovic before Filip Kostic drove wide from range.
Chelsea had lost control and their manager his patience, the Italian bouncing up and down the touchline enraged with Andreas Christensen in his attempts to hold off a break before, when the young defender was forced of injured, unleashing his wrath on Davide Zappacosta, not ready in time to immediately replace the Dane.
Chelsea could not get ahold of the game, nor Sarri his emotions, with the fourth official constantly threatening to send him to the stands. Minutes later and captain Azpilicueta was lucky not to be there himself – a loose, high and dangerous challenge quite remarkably only met with a yellow card.
Extra-time loomed as Ross Barkley was beckoned back to the technical area, bafflingly sent on for Loftus-Cheek, a decision met with deafening boos and jeers from the home end.
Frankfurt remained the more likely to book their place in Baku during normal time, but neither side could find a way through and extra-time soon came around.
Visiting manager Adi Hutter huddled his players around for one last rallying cry as those in Chelsea blue stood dotted around the pitch, Sarri receiving a ticking off for his antics.
Where there is Hazard, though, there is hope. The Belgian picked the ball up deep in the Chelsea half and drove on the break, Frankfurt outnumbered. He shifted it right to Gonzalo Higuain, introduced for Giroud, but the Argentine could only find a white shirt with his first touch and Chelsea had to go again.
With no cohesion the hosts were relying on individual moments alone. Hazard tried, but could not break through a well-drilled defence all alone, before Luiz lunged to clear off the line from substitute Sebastien Haller. Zappacosta was next up, turning the striker’s header over his own bar from a corner.
Finally Chelsea found a grip, with five minutes to go in added time. Frankfurt began to tire and Emerson found a way in behind before Zappacosta fired over the bar.
Hazard looped a cross too close to Trapp, who just about collected before being barged by Azpilicueta, the ball falling in. The Bridge bought it, as did Sarri, but it was not to be. No goal, penalties.
Haller and Barkley both kept their cool to score the first spot-kicks, while Jovic slid his under Kepa in front of the travelling support. Azpilicueta had lead the team talk before the shootout, but looked far from confident in his run-up before Trapp turned his effort around the post.
Advantage Frankfurt. Jonathan de Guzman ensured their advantage was secured before Jorginho fired back for Chelsea. Kepa then kept his cool to stay in the middle and trap Martin Hinteregger’s kick between his legs. Luiz powered home and Chelsea were in the driving seat.
Another stop from Goncalo Paciencia and they were speeding away, Frankfurt robbed.
Then it was just him. Hazard with the crucial kick. No other result, he sent Chelsea to Baku.
They are there almost through luck alone, but Chelsea now complete an all-English line-up in European finals this season.
Source: Evening Standard