Chelsea qualify for Champions League after Arsenal draw with Brighton
Maurizio Sarri’s side were booed off after a sloppy first half, but two goals in three minutes from Loftus-Cheek and Luiz lifted the mood at Stamford Bridge.Updated: May 05, 2019 23:27 IST
Chelsea were assured of a place in next season’s Champions League after London rivals Arsenal were held to a 1-1 draw by Brighton at the Emirates on Sunday.
The top four sides at the end of the Premier League season will gain entry into Europe’s leading club competition and this result meant third-placed Chelsea, who have 71 points, could not be overhauled by Arsenal, now on 67, with one final league game left this season for each side.
Arsenal, however, could still qualify for the Champions League by winning the Europa League. The Gunners will carry a 3-1 lead into Thursday’s second leg of their semi-final away to Valencia.
Chelsea were also indebted to a stunning save from Kepa Arrizabalaga, who recently admitted the painful lessons of his League Cup final mutiny -- when he refused to be substituted against Manchester City -- have made him a better person and player.
When Jose Holebas whipped in a cross, Kepa showed why Sarri only dropped him for one match following that Wembley rebellion as he leapt high to his right to brilliantly claw away Troy Deeney’s header from a Jose Holebas cross.
Adding to a concerning start for Chelsea, they lost France midfielder N’Golo Kante to injury after 10 minutes.
Loftus-Cheek, who started on the bench despite an impressive display in Frankfurt, came on for Kante, but Chelsea were still off the pace.
Deulofeu scuffed wide from a good position and by the time Holebas rifled just over from long-range, Sarri cut an agitated figure as he gesticulated angrily on the touchline.
Urging his players to “pass, pass, pass”, Sarri’s promptings almost brought a reward when Pedro went close with a 20-yard blast after a neat link-up with Gonzalo Higuain.
It wasn’t enough to prevent half-time jeers.
But Eden Hazard was beginning to warm to his task and the Belgian, without whom Chelsea would be completely toothless, helped Sarri’s men silence the doubters in the 48th minute.
When Hazard took a short corner, he collected Pedro’s return pass and flicked a cross towards the far post, where Loftus-Cheek rose above Nathaniel Chalobah to head home from close-range.
Playing with more verve and belief now, Chelsea struck again from another corner three minutes later as Hazard’s delivery was met by Luiz with a thumping header past Foster.
Higuain put the result beyond doubt when he scored just the fifth goal of his loan spell from Juventus in the 75th minute.
Running onto Pedro’s pass, the Argentine striker clipped a delicate finish over Foster from a tight angle to cap Chelsea’s second half resurgence.
First Published: May 05, 2019 20:35 IST