Eden Hazard scores twice as Chelsea sweep aside Arsenal in Europa League final in Baku

Chelsea players celebrate a goal during the UEFA Europa League final against Arsenal FC at Baku Olympic Stadium, Azerbaijian. (AFP)
Updated 30 May 2019

Eden Hazard scores twice as Chelsea sweep aside Arsenal in Europa League final in Baku

  • Olivier Giroud broke the deadlock just after half-time before Pedro Rodriguez doubled Chelsea’s lead
  • Eden Hazard converted a penalty to make it 3-0 and then wrapped up victory with his second goal following a fine consolation strike by Alex Iwobi

BAKU: Eden Hazard scored twice in what could be his farewell appearance as Chelsea swept away Arsenal in the Europa League final in Baku, winning 4-1 to hand Maurizio Sarri his first major trophy as a coach.
This match started at 11pm local time on Wednesday in Azerbaijan, but it was Thursday by the time it came to life with a flood of second-half goals started by Olivier Giroud’s 49th-minute opener against his old club.
Hazard then set up Pedro Rodriguez for Chelsea’s second before grabbing a brace of his own — including a penalty — either side of Alex Iwobi’s reply for Arsenal.
The Belgian has been tipped to leave Chelsea for Real Madrid after seven years in England, and if this is to be Hazard’s swansong it was the perfect way to go.
It is his, and Chelsea’s, second Europa League this decade and comes after they finished third in the Premier League to secure their return to the Champions League next season.
There will be no return to Europe’s top table for Arsenal. Unai Emery’s side had to win here to qualify for the Champions League but they were just not good enough on a bizarre night in Azerbaijan’s capital.
Emery was hoping to win this competition for the fourth time. He will get another chance next season, but for now Arsenal’s 25-year wait to bring back a European trophy to north London goes on.
Chelsea will remember their evening with fondness, as will Sarri, who 24 hours earlier had stolen the headlines when he angrily stormed off the pitch here during a training session in front of the television cameras.
The few Chelsea supporters who came will not forget their night either, but the fact there were reportedly only around 1,300 in Azerbaijan will be a source of regret to those at Stamford Bridge.
UEFA’s decision to play the game here had been heavily criticized, with the difficulty and cost of coming to the shores of the Caspian Sea preventing many fans from traveling and meaning Arsenal’s Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan was controversially absent.
Azerbaijan’s strongman President Ilham Aliyev was in the crowd, but there were thousands of empty seats in the Baku Olympic Stadium, a ground which holds almost 70,000,
That meant that, far away from the blood and thunder of a typical derby fixture between these two London clubs, this had the feel of an end-of-season exhibition match on a foreign tour, for much of the first half at least.
The players seemed to be short of their usual rhythm in a match played two and a half weeks after the Premier League season ended.
It came to life though, with an early moment of controversy when Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi dismissed Arsenal appeals for a penalty as Alexandre Lacazette went down under a challenge from Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Granit Xhaka then saw his powerful strike from 25 yards graze the crossbar on its way over as the half-hour mark approached.
Only after that did Chelsea come to life, but Petr Cech — facing his old side in his final match before retiring — blocked an Emerson Palmieri shot and then denied Giroud at the end of a fine move.
However, as the clock ticked past midnight after a goalless first half, Chelsea went ahead when Giroud stole in front of Laurent Koscielny and stooped to head Emerson’s ball in from the left past Cech.
It was his 11th goal in this season’s competition, and there was to be no comeback from Arsenal, with Chelsea quickly putting this final beyond their opponents’ reach as Hazard took over.
He set up Pedro for a clipped finish low beyond Cech and into the far corner on the hour mark, and five minutes later Hazard calmly rolled in a penalty awarded after Ainsley Maitland-Niles had barged into Giroud.
Substitute Iwobi’s sublime reply soon followed, but Arsenal had left themselves with too much to do, and Giroud and Hazard then combined brilliantly for the Belgian to get his second and Chelsea’s fourth in the 72nd minute.


Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

Updated 25 August 2019

Djokovic not worried about blisters ahead of US Open

  • When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain

NEW YORK: During a break in practice two days before opening his US Open title defense, Novak Djokovic pulled off his blue shoe and white sock so a trainer could look at his right foot.

Did it again a little while later.

And then, toward the end of Saturday’s training session in Louis Armstrong Stadium with 2014 runner-up Kei Nishikori, Djokovic stopped a sprint and pulled up short of a ball, raised his right leg off the ground entirely and hopped repeatedly on his left, wincing. Nothing to worry about, Djokovic said later at his pre-tournament news conference: Just blisters.

“A minor thing,” Djokovic called it. “Like anybody has ... Nothing major that is causing a concern for the event.”

When the year's last Grand Slam tournament begins Monday, Djokovic will be in Arthur Ashe Stadium during the afternoon session, facing Roberto Carballes Baena, a 26-year-old from Spain whose career-best ranking was 72nd.

Carballes Baena has an overall career record of 43-50. That includes 2-7 at major tournaments, 1-1 at Flushing Meadows, where he made his debut a year ago and lost in the second round.

Djokovic, meanwhile, has won 33 of his past 34 Grand Slam matches en route to collecting four of the past five major titles. That allowed the 32-year-old Serb to raise his career haul to 16 trophies, putting him just two away from second-place Rafael Nadal’s total of 18, and Roger Federer’s 20, which is the record for men.

He’s not shy about trying to catch those guys.

“More or less everything is about Grand Slams, in terms of how I see tennis and how I approach it, because they matter the most,” Djokovic said. “So I will definitely try to play my best tennis — and aim to play my best tennis — at these events.”

And while many would attribute Djokovic's success to his ability to return serves, say, or his mental strength and propensity for coming up big in the biggest moments — such as saving two match points along the way to edging Federer in a fifth-set tiebreaker in the Wimbledon final last month — there's something else the man himself would point to as his most vital quality.

That's the way Djokovic can cover a court, which is why the state of that right foot is actually a rather big deal.

His movement, Djokovic said Saturday, is "the base of everything" and "the most important thing."

"It just allows you to be more in balance. And at the end of the day, that is what you're looking for as a tennis player," he explained. "How can you hit the ball, being in the right balance, so you can penetrate the ball with the right speed, accuracy and precision?"

Watch Djokovic during a match, and you'll see him change direction in a heartbeat, twist and turn, contort his limbs, slide — on clay, on grass, even on hard courts — always getting to the right spot at the right time.

He attributes his strength in that area to the flexibility of his ankles and is grateful he used to participate in another sport while growing up back home in Serbia.

"I credit my childhood spent on the skis. I used to spend a lot of time skiing," Djokovic said. "That had an effect as well, with kind of coordination and changing movement from one side to another. Even though they're different sports, in essence, you're using some major muscle groups and joints and stuff like this in most of the sports."

It is Djokovic's right elbow that gave him the most trouble a couple of seasons ago.

He missed the last half of 2017, including that year's US Open because that arm was bothering him, then wound up having surgery in February 2018. It took some time for Djokovic to get going after that. All's good these days, though.

"Novak had a couple years where he didn't seem like the same guy," ESPN's John McEnroe said. "Now he's back with a vengeance."

Only 1½ months have passed since Djokovic edged Federer in that classic title match at the All England Club.

Not a lot of time to savor the victory. Not a lot of time to rest a weary body.

"This sport can be a little bit 'cruel,'" Djokovic said, using fingers to indicate air quotes, "when it comes to, I guess, marveling or celebrating your own success. You don't have that much luxury of time to really reflect on everything because the season keeps going."