Pedro Rodríguez won the UEFA Champions League three times during his stay at Barcelona and the 31-year-old craves success as much as ever
BY DAN THACKER
'YOU NEVER GET TIRED OF
You have enjoyed so much success. What is it like to lift a trophy?
It’s the culmination of a whole year’s hard work. It is the best feeling and means we have done our job well over the course of the season. To feel that emotion when you lift the trophy is unique. It is very gratifying and satisfying to see that you have done your job and that the fans can share in that emotion. You’re always eager to keep winning titles and trophies because it is important for your career, it helps you grow as a player. You can never get tired of winning. You can get bored of many things, but never winning.
You have not previously won the Europa League. Does that give you added motivation?
Yes, of course it gives me added motivation. It’s a trophy that’s not yet on my list of achievements for my career, and it’s a European title for the club and that always drives you on a little more. We’ve had a great Europa League [campaign]. The match against Arsenal is going to be very good to watch and very open, as they are opponents that we know like to play football. They defend from the front, like we do, so I think it will be a final that’s very easy on the eye.
How will playing against Arsenal change the atmosphere?
It will perhaps be more tense because we know them well. If you have played other finals against them you can analyse how they went and that tension and that pressure has always been there. It will be a derby on top of being a European final. It gives us even more motivation because there are such high stakes in one match.
You’re one of the more experienced players at Chelsea. What advice do you give to the younger players?
I always try to give any advice I can. We have a good group here, both the young players and the veterans. I think we’re in tune with one another in the dressing room and that’s important. There are players with a lot of experience like David Luiz or Hazard or other players who’ve been playing for this club for several years. Azpilicueta and Cahill, too. They can give a lot of advice to the young players. N’Golo Kanté is another good example, thinking about the dressing room. He plays a very important role here. He’s a very calm person who does very important work for us. Knowing how to combine youth and experience and having a harmonious dressing room is difficult. We’re all one big family. I think that shows on and off the pitch.
Chelsea have scored more goals than any other team in the UEFA Europa League this season.
Yes, I think that Maurizio [Sarri]’s strategy for us is very good. The idea of attacking and pressing high. We create a lot of chances. We get a lot of players into the opposition’s box. We’re enjoying it on the pitch, scoring a lot of goals and managing to win a lot of matches. We’re building on what we’ve been working on from the start of the season.
Pedro chips home after just five minutes against Slavia at Stamford Bridge (right); the Spaniard carries the UEFA Champions League trophy after Barcelona’s 2015 triumph (above)"
Let’s talk about some of your team-mates. Tell us about Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s hat-trick against BATE.
It was a great home match, we scored a lot of goals, and Ruben got his hat-trick. It put us in a great position in the group and allowed us to kick on from there bit by bit. Ruben was in very good form and that continued throughout the Europa League. He scored a lot of goals and played at a very high level for us.
What was it like seeing Callum Hudson-Odoi get his first goal against PAOK?
It’s magical, isn’t it? He’s such a young player with so much expectation surrounding him and such a bright future. To be able to come out here and score your first goal is always significant, especially in a European competition. It was a really big moment for him and also for us as his team-mates because we know how much potential Callum has. I’m very happy that he has had such a good season. It’s a shame about his injury because I think he would have played very well for us in the final.
How happy were you for Kepa Arrizabalaga after the shoot-out win against Frankfurt?
He’s another player who has had a great season and who has been key to getting us into the final. He made big saves during the shoot-out, but not only during the penalties – he played very well all game and also tipped one over the bar really well from Danny da Costa, which saved us in the first half. With that penalty save, he left it to Eden to decide who got to the final. Kepa’s been playing at a very high level and let’s hope he does more of the same in the final.
And then you just knew that Eden Hazard was going to score the winning penalty.
When we saw that Kepa had saved the fifth spot kick and Eden was taking our next one, we were pretty calm because he tends to score penalties. He’s a penalty specialist. And, in the end, he scored yet another to secure the victory for us and get us into the Europa League final.
You have played with some great players during your career – where would you rank Hazard?
I’ve always said that Eden is one of the best players in the world. I don’t think there’s any player at the same level as Leo [Messi] at the moment, but we know the potential that Hazard has. He’s shown it throughout his time at Chelsea, and again this year during another great season. I hope that we can win this title for him because he deserves it.
Pedro is quick to praise the contribution of leading scorer Olivier Giroud, who will be looking to add to his tally of ten goals against his old club
While Pedro Rodríguez has weighed in with some crucial goals for Chelsea in recent rounds, not even he can match the impact of fellow forward Olivier Giroud – joint top scorer in the UEFA Europa League this season.
The Frenchman has struck ten times in 13 games, leaving him level with Frankfurt’s Luka Jović and looking to surge clear
"It was a perfect hat-trick – and all with one touch. I score most of my goals with one touch"
against his old side Arsenal. “Oli has had a great season,” says Pedro. “He’s always managed to score and he’s played at a high level. He’s contributed a lot to getting us to the Europa League final.”
The Spaniard has set up two of his team-mate’s goals, but it has not been one-way traffic by any means. Signed from Arsenal in January 2018, Giroud has always been much more than a finisher, and his hard work and slick link-up play have also brought him four assists on the road to Baku.
One of those helped produce a glorious opening goal in Chelsea’s quarter-final decider against Slavia Praha. The Blues cut through the Slavia ranks with some delicious touches, none more eye-catching than Giroud’s return ball for Pedro to lob the keeper. “It was a great combination,” recalls Pedro. “One-touch football, moving the ball very quickly, a give-and-go, and then rounding it off with a chip for the goal.”
It must have looked very familiar to Arsenal fans. Giroud scored 105 times in 253 games for the Gunners and remains popular among the club’s supporters, who warmed to his work rate, excellent timing, aerial strength and predatory finishing with both feet. Those attributes have shone through again this season – and all of them in one match as the 32-year-old hit a perfect hat-trick away to Dynamo Kyiv in the last 16.
“I was only told after the game that it was a perfect hat-trick,” says Giroud. “I didn’t realise I’d scored one with my right foot, one with my left and one header. It was very satisfying. And all with one touch. I score the majority of my goals with one touch.”
One touch is all it could take to break Arsenal hearts in Baku.