May 29 – Chelsea’s preparations for the first of this week’s two all-English European finals have been overshadowed by reports that manager Maurizio Sarri appeared to storm out of a pre-match training session in Baku.
The Chelsea head coach is reported to be considering his future despite finishing third in the Premier League amid speculation that, win or lose in Baku’s Olympic Stadium, it could his final game in charge such are the demands of the Chelsea heirarchy.
Sarri has already led Chelsea to next term’s Champions League but doubts remain after a turbulent first season in London.
Tensions appeared to boil over in the build-up to tonight’s Europa League clash with London rivals Arsenal but a Chelsea spokesman said there had been no bust-up with any players.
“Maurizio’s frustration displayed at the end of training was not related to any of his players, but was due to not being able to practise set-plays in the final 15 minutes of the hour-long training session as it remained open to media,” a statement said.
Sarri has been strongly linked with Juventus but, reflecting on the past 11 months, he told reporters: “For me, at the beginning of the season it was really very difficult to understand my players, to understand the mentality.”
“But after a very difficult month in January, in February they started to change, I think. Or probably I changed – I don’t know. Now I am really very happy with them.”
While Sarri has never won a major honour as a manager, his Arsenal counterpart Unai Emery has become a Europa League specialist winning the competition three times with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016.
Yet while Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012 and the Europa League a year later, Arsenal have not clinched a European title since they won the now obsolete European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994.
Winning the Europa League would make Arsenal the fifth English side to qualify for next season’s senior competition and Emery says ending the 25-year wait for European glory in Baku, 2,500 miles from London, is his prime objective with all the pressure on his side given it’s their last chance of getting back into the Champions League after a two-year absence.
“There are two targets here but the most important target for us is to win a title,” the Spaniard said. “The second target is to help us to achieve the Champions League.”
Emery rejects the idea that the game means less to Chelsea because they have already clinched Champions League qualification.
“Each title is very important for us, and for Chelsea too. We want to enjoy this moment, for our fans and also for ourselves. Chelsea will have the same idea.”
Most of those fans will be watching back home, with only 6,000 seats allocated to each of the finalists in Baku and no direct flights from London during the week of the game.
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