Thursday 6 June 2019

Baku at the ranch for BT Sport boys as Europa League Final impersonates old school testimonial

While thousands of hardcore Arsenal and Chelsea fans stayed away from the Europa League Final in Baku (Twinned with Gilead), the chosen BT Sport commentary team of Ian Darke and Robbie Savage seemed, themselves, to be guiding us through proceedings from a place nowhere near Azerbaijan.

The isolated sounds from their well-worn mouths in relation to the venue was reminiscent of ITV coverage of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when technical issues obliged Brian Moore to commentate on group matches from the pundit studio in London.

Whether or not BT Sport had decided to hold Darke and Savage back to make a saving, this left anchor man, Jake Humphrey and pundit man, Martin Keown, as their only audio-visual British representatives, mixing with EU types, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Cesc Fabregas pitchside. Ex Arsenal and Chelsea man Fabregas got his suit wet, courtesy of a stadium sprinkler system operated by a sinister contact of Sir Alex Ferguson, still looking for revenge for the pizza attack of 2004.

Humphreys made Cesc do a twirl and then recalled another pre-match incident from the last round, in The Mestalla at Valencia, where Keown suffered a stray ball in the face. Oddly, the very same thing happened to Keown in the warm up of Arsenal-Leeds United in the 2012 FA Cup 3rd Round at Emirates Stadium when United's Michael Brown smashed a shot straight into the side of his head. Were it not for Brown's hapless inaccuracy on the pitch, suspicions might be aroused that people are doing it deliberately.

Back up in the studio, all pundits agreed that the pitch now down below them reignited the feeling of wanting to play in a Final. Gudjohnsen, though, said he would resist the temptation, because "I would embarrass myself". Maybe that same mentality had run through the Norwegian's head in the 2nd leg of the Champions' League semi final that he played in at Anfield in 2005, when he was presented with a last-gasp opportunity to take Chelsea through to a Final with AC Milan in Istanbul but screwed his right footed shot, indeed, embarrassingly wide.  

Down on the pitch again, when the pre-season friendly, er Europa League Final, kicked off, the absence of Keown, Savage and Brown-like characters ensured that the first half passed without incident. Chelsea keeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga, the most difficult Stamford Bridge custodian to spell since Eddie Niedwiecki, was too polite to even punch properly, while semi-final hot shot, Pierre Emerick Aubamayang of the Arsenals, couldn't bring himself to punish the Mike Teevee of the Carabao Cup Final.

By the second half, viewers of BT Sport's YouTube channel, or app, or, lest we forget, those in the ground, couldn't work out whether Arsenal didn't want the trophy enough or qualification for the Champions League enough. Whilst this was pondered even by Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Laurent Koscielny, their former team mate, Olivier Giroud, always something of a textbook Europa League standard talisman, dived to head in past former Chelsea captain, Peter Cech, playing his last game for The Arsenals. Giroud celebrated "respectfully", although the more honourable thing to have done, if he was that bothered, would have been to nod it wide of the goal.

At least Giroud had the decency to stay out of Chelsea's second goal, made by Eden Hazard and finished by a Pedro finally unburdened by the removal of that weird half moustache: in the modern game, it's the small percentages that make the difference.

In fairness to Giroud, he could little about the third either, being barged to the ground by Maitland-Niles while minding his own business. The resulting penalty was barely worth even taking, a duel as it was between a man who never misses one against a man who never saves one. This is perhaps unfair on Cech, who saved Ronaldo's shoot-out pen in the Champions League Final of 2008 for Chelsea against Manchester United, and, more importantly, Troy Deeney's at The Emirates against Watford in 17-18; it's just that I can't recall Hazard not ever scoring one. Inevitably, the man leaving Chelsea slid the ball past the man rejoining Chelsea.  

Arsenal sub, Alex Iwobi, scored the goal of the game with a volley from just inside the box to tempt Savage into a topical comment about European comebacks, though barely had he ended that sentence than Giroud was crossing for Hazard to volley in a fourth for Chelsea. Giroud's left footed ball across the box was reminiscent of his ball for Aaron Ramsey to head in the winner for Arsenal against Chelsea in the 2017 FA Cup Final. Now having played in five professional Finals since arriving in England, Giroud has set up three goals, scored two and won a penalty in them - while not even starting two of those games. He's the man for the medium-large occasion.

So Maurizio Sarri won his first ever professional trophy against the serial Europa League winner, Unai Emery, adding silverware to the 3rd place Premier League finish his team somehow stumbled into. His tenure at Stamford Bridge is, therefore, under threat, and UEFA will soon breathe easily again once this, and other speculative information, overshadows all that frilly talk about unacceptable venues and ticket allocations for Finals and their ethos-for-a price policy, not to mention this absurd anti-discrimination folly on taking bribes!                                

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