N’Golo Kante insists Chelsea do not consider themselves Europa League favourites.
The Blues raced into a 3-0 lead in Thursday’s quarter-final second leg against Slavia Prague at Stamford Bridge, only for the visitors to pull three goals back for a fraught finale.
Chelsea prevailed 4-3 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate, with Pedro on target twice and Olivier Giroud notching his 10th Europa League goal of the campaign.
Maurizio Sarri’s men will now face Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-finals, but with Arsenal facing Valencia in the other last-four tie Kante maintains Chelsea will not get ahead of themselves.
“We’re not favourites; we played a good match and we will do all we can to get to the final,” said Kante.
“But we’re not favourites. It was important for us to win this game.
“I think it’s important to be in the semi-finals, it was our target.
“We played a good game, it was difficult in the second-half but we got what we wanted and we are happy for that.
“I think they worked very well, they tried to push more and scored two beautiful goals.
“And after that we managed to hold on to keep the win.”
Pedro’s first finish, a neat Giroud effort and an own goal from Simon Deli put Chelsea three goals to the good inside 20 minutes in south-west London on Thursday.
Tomas Soucek’s headed finish did not dent Chelsea’s authority, but Petr Sevcik’s double after the break most certainly did.
Chelsea are still chasing a top-four Premier League finish, along with their European ambitions.
And World Cup winner Kante believes completing that Europa League mission would turn Chelsea’s campaign into a success.
“We can make the season beautiful by winning the Europa League,” said Kante.
“That’s the only title we can win now, so it would be great to win the Europa League.
“I think at the beginning of the game it was a good feeling to score three goals like this. The most important thing was to qualify.
“We’ll go into the semi-final with confidence and we hope to qualify for the final.”
Chelsea head coach Sarri lamented another slow second half start that nearly derailed the Blues’ bid for European glory.
The hosts were cruising until Sevcik’s quick-fire double that teed up a tense finish.
France star Kante admitted Chelsea have an issue with their second-half performances, but insisted the Stamford Bridge men still have chance to resolve those shortcomings.
Asked about those slow second-half starts, Kante said: “It’s just something that has happened many times this season and something we need to manage a bit better. But we still have to work on that.”
Valencia boss Marcelino said he was proud of his side after they booked their place in the Europa League semi-finals with a 2-0 win over La Liga rivals Villarreal
Toni Lato netted his first senior goal for the club in the 13th minute before Dani Parejo doubled the lead at the start of the second half to secure a 5-1 aggregate victory.
Marcelino told a press conference reported by Uefa.com: “We are proud of what we’ve done and grateful to the players.
“We are in a semi-final, a final and doing well in the league. We’d like to be in two finals in this centenary season.”
On his semi-final opponents Arsenal, he added: “They have a coach we know very well here and some extraordinary players.
“But if there’s any more pressure on them to win this competition, we’ll play the semi-final with just the same desire to go through as they have.”
The game was played in torrential rain at the Mestella.
Marcelino added: “I thank the crowd for coming tonight. I’ve been in this city for a couple of years and never seen it rain like this but they came, roared their support and stayed on an ugly night of unbelievable weather.”
Villarreal coach Javier Calleja felt his side missed too many chances as they sought to overcome a 3-1 first-leg deficit.
“We’ve given two serious performances. We really showed up in each match. The first leg probably marked the way this quarter-final would end up,” Calleja said.
“We created lots of chances, which against Valencia is tough. But we missed too many – we didn’t quite have the definition to tuck them away.”
Eintracht Frankfurt head coach Adi Hutter hailed his side after they reversed a two-goal first-leg deficit to beat Benfica and reach the Europa League semi-finals.
Goals from Filip Kostic and Sebastian Rode gave the German side a 2-0 win on the night which erased their 4-2 defeat from the first leg and sent them through to face Chelsea on the away goals rule.
Hutter told his club’s official website: “It was a perfect game and a perfect evening – Benfica went all out to score but we stood up and we certainly deserved to win.
“We have delivered great performances in the Europa League. At 1-0 we had the necessary luck. Our tactical discipline was important and we absorbed the emotions of the audience.”
Hutter also said he was relishing the prospect of facing Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea and stressed his own side’s underdog status for the tie.
“We are perhaps the least anticipated semi-finalists, and Chelsea will be the favourites,” Hutter added.
Benfica coach Bruno Lage, who was sent to the stands for protesting that Kostic’s effort should have been ruled out for offside, said his side were left to rue missed chances.
In an interview quoted by uefa.com, Lage said: “I believe that, although we weren’t as strong as we were in the first leg, we created enough opportunities to qualify.
“During the first half the pressure was not as strong as we wanted. In the second half we got better and we tried to go looking for the result, but unfortunately we failed.”