Chelsea’s Redemption: Can Rafa guide the Blues past Benfica?
Interim manager Rafael Benitez will be out to prove a point with victory, and has the chance to leave the west London club with his head held high should his side beat the Portuguese outfit.
Given Chelsea’s heroics in the Champions League last year, the 2012-13 European campaign has been a major let down. However, since being eliminated from Europe’s top tournament earlier in the season, the Stamford Bridge side have rarely looked troubled, overcoming Sparta Prague, Steaua Bucharest, Rubin Kazan and FC Basel.
Benitez will be pleased with his side’s improved domestic form, which has left the club in a position to secure a top-four Premier League finish. Given that a minor mathematical miracle is needed for the Blues to miss out on qualifying for the Champions League next term, the Spanish coach will have had his players focused on this game for quite some time.
Benfica will pose the toughest opponent for the Blues in this competition this season, and have the players to make it difficult for Chelsea. The Portuguese outfit have had a more difficult route to the final, and have beaten established sides such as Bayer Leverkusen, Bordeaux, Newcastle United and Fenerbahce.
The Estadio da Luz team lost a crucial domestic game against Porto in their last outing, and as such sit a point adrift of their rivals in second place in the Portuguese Liga. Benfica will be out to ensure that they still have the chance to complete a memorable double, but will need to be at their best to overcome a Chelsea side in form.
Benfica have a good blend of youth and experience in their squad, and a number of attacking players could well make life uncomfortable for Chelsea. South American forwards Lima and Oscar Cardozo have been amongst the goals this season, and will be supplied by the likes of Pablo Aimar and Nicolas Gaitan.
Two Chelsea players will know their opponents more than most. Brazilian duo David Luiz and Ramires both moved to west London from the Portuguese side, and the pair have played a considerable role in helping Chelsea through to this stage of the competition.
Rafa Benitez will urge his side to continue to play in the vein they have been over the last eight games, which has seen six victories and two draws in all competitions. The Blues will look to their attacking trident of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata to provide the spark to win the game, and if the Blues play to their potential they should be too strong for Benfica.