The quarter-finals of the Europa League kick-off on Thursday night and Chelsea are the bookmakers favourites to go-on and lift the trophy this season.
Boss Maurizio Sarri arrived last summer tasked with guiding Chelsea back into the Champions League after the west Londoners finished fifth in the Premier League last campaign.
The Blues have endured an inconsistent first season under the Italian and face a tough battle with Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United to secure one of the two remaining top four places up for grabs in the league.
Therefore, the Europa League could be Chelsea’s best hope of returning to Europe’s elite competition next season and the Blues are the firm favourites with many American casinos to lift the trophy in Baku next month.
After breezing through the group stages, easing past Malmo and battering Dynamo Kiev 8-0 on aggregate in the last-16, the quarter-final draw was kind to Chelsea after they were pitted against Slavia Prague.
The Czech outfit did superbly well to get past Sevilla in the previous round and Thursday night’s away first leg could be tricky, but Chelsea will be extremely confident of beating Prague over two legs to book their place in the semi-finals.
The Londoners will then take on the winner of Benfica and Eintracht Frankfurt in the last-4. Benfica would arguably be the stiffer test but Chelsea would be expected to see-off either team to reach the final.
Arsenal are the obvious competition for Chelsea but the Gunners have been drawn to face Italian giants Napoli in the quarter-finals. Chelsea, Arsenal and Napoli have been the clear front-runners to win the Europa League throughout the season so it’s fortunate for the Blues that their closest rivals have been drawn to face each other.
Chelsea now know they won’t have to face either side until the final – if Arsenal or Napoli make it that far. The winner of their quarter-final would face either Villarreal or Valencia in the semi-finals and the Spanish duo won’t be easy opposition. If they slipped-up, Chelsea would end up having the chance to win the Europa League without having to face either Arsenal or Napoli.
Even if Chelsea do come up against Arsenal or Napoli in the final they would still be confident of getting the job done in a one-off game as the Blues have a great record in finals.
The kind draw has meant Chelsea have been installed as 7/4 favourites to win the Europa League this season and those doing their sports betting in South Africa can get Arsenal and Napoli priced at around 4/1 with many bookmakers.
The outsiders such as Valencia and Benfica are way out at 8/1 and 10/1 to lift the trophy so the bookies see it as a three-way fight with Chelsea the clear favourites to come out on top in Baku.
There is still a lot of football to be played but if Chelsea can come away with a positive result from their quarter-final first leg in Prague on Thursday night, then the odds of them winning the Europa League will shorten even more.