What a shame. I was sorry to see Valencia left by the wayside, another victim of the Premier League challengers who are in rampant form this year. It was always going to be a difficult task – right from the moment Aubameyang scored the third goal in last week’s first leg. At 2-1, Valencia might have had a chance but turning around a 3-1 was always going to be a mountain to climb. In spite of all that, Valencia started well, commanded by a lucid Gonçalo Guedes. They got an early goal which inspired hope but as soon as Aubameyang replied at the other end five minutes later, the team’s morale sank before our eyes. It set the tone for the rest of the game – a contest between an Arsenal side who looked sure of themselves with two brilliant players up front - Aubameyang and Lacazette arriba and a Valencia increasingly dejected, downbeat and weak at the back.
Drama at Stamford Bridge
Valencia’s inevitable collapse gave us the chance to switch channels and see what was going on in the other semi-final in London which was locked at 1-1 and was eventually taken to extra-time and then decided on penalties. It was tremendous, frenzied game with Eintracht looking much stronger than Chelsea and with the advantage of knowing that if they could score another goal, Chelsea would need two... Once again it was football at its purest, a spectacle of effort and emotion, which took our breath away right up until the final kick of the shoot-out. And there was Kepa blocking two penalties to make up for Azpilicueta’s miss. Hazard, with extraordinary calm, rifled in the deciding spot-kick to ensure the finalists in this year’s Champions League and Europa League are all clubs from the Premier League.
Two European finals with the winner in both guaranteed to be an English club – something that has never happened before. Following on from the years when our clubs dominated in Europe, the Premier League has reclaimed their place as the prevalent force – and the reasons for that are quite simple. One is money. English clubs earn more from television rights than anyone else. The other is that they have spent years cleansing themselves of their old guard of football coaches – managers set in their ways and entrenched in old-fashioned ideas of the game. There are only a few such coaches left and they’re not doing well. All four finalists have non-English coaches – as do Manchester City who are close to winning the league. England has finally come up to date.